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When my love swears that she is made of truth I do believe her, though I know she lies.

Chapter Text

Serena looks out at the passing countryside, trying to relax after a long day at work. The more miles she puts between her and Holby the easier she breathes. She likes her life, she can’t really complaining without feeling terribly guilty, but she can only take so much of Elinor’s whims, neverending board meetings and Robbie’s drunken calls. A break was long overdue and even if this is hardly the holiday in Italy she’s had in mind for a while, she’ll make the most of it.
She's been invited to a three days conference in London about Healthcare and Management on AAU. Hanssen had insisted she’d go. Unnecessarily, really, because she was more then willing as soon as the words ‘three days’ and ‘London’ left his mouth. The prize was symbolic, just ten thousand pounds for the winning hospital, but the prestige was what Henrik was after. Luckily she’ll be speaking on the last day so she can relax and have a glass of wine at the hotel before getting a good, well deserved night sleep. After a short taxi ride she finally arrives. She had a sandwich at the station so she checks in, refresh rapidly in her room and trying not to run too fast to the hotel bar. She looks briefly around crossing the room, it’s full of doctors, some faces are familiar but all Serena’s longing for is a drink.
“Shiraz, please.” She sighs happily for finally reaching what has been her target since early morning and smiles to the waiter. She sits on a stool and only after notices the blond woman next to her. She doesn’t look like a doctor, Serena is greatly relieved and wanders briefly who she might be. When her glass of wine arrives, she takes an abundant sip and moans contently, maybe a little too loudly because the blonde turns to her. “It must really be something.” She says amused.
“It is.” Serena confirms and takes another sip. “But I learned that I’m more inclined to small pleasures when I’m tired. So, it might be that.”
“Long day?”
“Very.” Serena looks at the empty glass in front of the woman. “What are you drinking?”
“Whisky.”
Serena waves to the waiter who comes with a very pricy bottle and serves the blonde. “You’re not cheap.”
The woman laughs. “Not when it comes to alcohol.”
“Well, that we have in common. What’s your job?”
There’s a small pause that Serena uses to drink some more.
“I’m a Major. Army.”
“Passing by?”
The woman takes her glass and nods just before it touches her lips.
Serena likes her black coat, she could never pull it off but it suits the woman well. It’s black and double breasted, tighter on the waist and falls open on a white, soft t-shirt with an ample neckline. “Are you staying here?”
The blonde puts the glass down and sits more comfortably towards Serena but doesn’t say a word.
Serena waits, searches her eyes hidden by a rebellious fringe and wonders what in this woman makes her so curious. “You don’t talk much, do you?”
“It ruins things more often than not.”
It’s a pity, Serena thinks, because the woman has a beautiful, deep voice. “How?”
“Take us. Do you really want to know about my life? Every silly, mundane detail?” She makes a little grimace and then a smug smirk like someone who’s testing its limits. “I know I don’t want to talk about your day. Did you have a fight with a coworker? Did your car break down? I really don’t care.”
“So…” Serena pouts mockingly. “You don’t want to be my friend?”
“No, I definitely don’t want to be your friend.”
The woman smiles and there’s something in her eyes that steals all Serena’s attention for a moment. “And what do you want?”
The woman looks around the room and then back to Serena. “Pass the time.”
Serena wonders if what she sees is a hint of sadness but it doesn’t last, the woman is smiling again. “You have a beautiful smile.”
“Do I?”
“And you’ll be pleased to know that I definitely don’t care if it’s real or not.”
The blonde laughs. “Very pleased. Now tell me what you want.”
Serena wants world peace, a good laid and enjoy these three days break. “I don’t want to talk with any doctor tonight and I don’t want to go to my room sober.”
The woman tilts her head, unconvinced. “That’s what you don’t want.”
“It’s the same thing.” Serena shrugs.
“No, it’s not. But you can tell me after.”
“After what?”
“After I get you drunk.”

They sit at a small table, close enough to the bar to be noticed by the waiter when needed and far enough from the crowd. The woman is still wearing her coat, as she could leave at a moment notice. It makes Serena vaguely restless.
“So, what doctors ever did to you?”
The woman is sitting comfortably on her chair and Serena leans on her with an overly suspicious look. “Why? Do you like them?”
“They can be useful.” The woman tucks away her fringe that immediately falls back.
She’s gorgeous, Serena realizes, and waits for that little prick of envy she always gets with gorgeous women. But it never comes. “Not in bars, unless you happen to choke on an olive.”
“Well, I can do the Heimlich maneuver, so you’re safe.”
“Can you?” Serena blinks and feels the woman’s arms sliding around her.
The blonde adjust the coaster under her glass. “Standard military training.”
“Really?” Serena is not convinced but what would she know about military training anyway. “What else do they teach you?”
“Nothing useful in a bar, I’m afraid.”
And finally the woman removes her coat and Serena’s eyes follow her every movements, until something else catches her attention. “Oh God, he’s here.”
“Who?”
“A… man.” Serena doesn’t say doctor, because then she’d have to tell about the conference and her job and then this whole conversation would become a regular conversation. Would become mundane. “He’s been trying to sleep with me for years.”
The woman discreetly turns around and hangs her coat on the chair. “With the beard?”
“Yes.”
“I wouldn’t worry about him.” The woman pats Serena’s hand.
“Why?”
“He’s stalking that girl.” She points at a young brunette in a shiny dress. “Fool.”
Serena wishes the woman’s hand had stayed on hers, it was so warm. “Fool?”
“I would have sticked with you.”
The woman says it like it’s nothing but Serena sees her eyes lower too quickly on the glass. “Even if I’d say no for years?”
The woman takes the glass. “Maybe you wouldn’t had said no to me.”
“A beautiful major with unruled blond hair? I suppose you don’t get many nos.”
“I never ask.” The woman makes the whisky turn once. And drinks it too fast.
Serena watches her pass her thumb on her lip where a drop of the amber liquid has escaped. Is she nervous, joking, plain smug? Serena can’t tell and it bothers her. “I wish you did, just so I could say no.”
The woman leans slightly to Serena. “You haven’t been always truthful tonight, but this is the first lie.” She’s not nervous, joking or smug. Just confident.
The waiter comes with their refill, allowing Serena to hide the unbecoming blush creeping up her throat.
“If you are going to make these bold assumptions, you should at least introduce yourself.”
The woman ponders the request for a moment. “Bernie.”
“I was sure you were going with a fake one, I’m honored.”
“Maybe it is.”
Serena tilts her head and makes a small grimace.
“You’re right, I wouldn’t have use that.”
“I’m Serena. Are we gonna shake hands like civilized people?” Serena says with all the innocence and cheerfulness she can muster but when Bernie gives her her hand Serena holds it just a little too long, until Bernie’s smile falters and Serena feels less lonely in whatever this is.
“You are really warm.” Serena wants to sound light but it comes out all wrong.
“So I’ve been told.” It’s Bernie’s dry replay.
“I didn’t mean…”
“I don’t mind either way.”
“Oh. Ok.”
Bernie leans back on her chair. Legs apart and a hand in her hair. “You know what I’m really dying for?”
“What?”
“A fag.” She sits up again with a more playful face. “Wanna come with me?”
“Only if you share.”
“Goes without saying.”

The hotel entrance is made of glass and metal, light spots all over it. On the side, where it’s a bit darker, there’s an ashtray and a sign. Bernie blows the smoke up and passes the cigarette to Serena. “Some days I think I can stop and then…”
“Maybe you shouldn’t have started at all.” Serena says halfheartedly. Her mind more interested in figuring out why she’s out in the cold with this woman.
“Do you think so? Do you think that’s how it works?” Bernie stares at her like Serena has just said some pearl of wisdom.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Maybe some things are inevitable. You can only delay them.”
Serena doesn’t understand if Bernie agrees with her or doesn’t. “Are we still talking about nicotine?”
Bernie shrugs. “Are you cold?”
“You noticed, at last! Warm me up, will you?” Serena is freezing and leans happily on Bernie who tentatively puts an arm around her shoulder.
“You’re a big fan of personal space, aren’t you?”
“I am, yes.”
“You don’t talk, you don’t touch. How the hell do you communicate?”
“I let the others make all the effort.” Bernie states simply.
“That’s the most arrogant…” Serena turns in the embrace to look her in the eyes. “I do hope you’re worth it.”
They’re suddenly so close and Bernie’s gaze flicks on her lips. “What do you think?”
It all lasts not more than a second. The absolute certainty that Serena wants to kiss this woman. The small revelation that if Bernie were a man Serena would have recognize this attraction immediately. And the group of drunk people that walks out of the hotel completely ruining the moment.
Bernie steps back and puts out the cigarette.

Serena calls the lift and watches the blonde’s figure reflexed on the metal doors. The long coat, it’s all the coat’s fault. It makes Bernie looks like a bloody superhero in disguise. “Which floor?”
“Fifth.”
Serena presses both their floors, rapidly overwhelmed by the weight of what could possibly happen, the electricity bouncing off of her in the small space, the longing so profound, matched only by the uncertainty of it all. And maybe that’s what makes it so extraordinary, how something so intense can be so frail as well, so close and just a moment away to be lost forever. Serena watches the numbers lighten up. One. Two. Her chest tightens. Three. Four. Serena clears her throat but Bernie doesn’t turn. Five. The doors open and Bernie looks at her, slightly surprised, then down to Serena’s hand firm on her arm. The doors close.
Serena feels the sudden urge to babble. Fill the silence with anything but resists. They get to the seventh floor and walk down the corridor. Serena takes the card out of her pocket and tries to open her room but she keeps getting an angry beep and a red light. “Sorry.” She mumbles.
Bernie takes gently the card from her and succeed at the first attempt.
“Of course.” Serena hisses under her breath. And pushes the door. She finds the switch and the bathroom lights turn on, then the fan. Serena sighs. The main light brights them and then finally the lamps on the bedside. “Sorry.” She says again.
“It’s alright.”
“I hate hotels. So impersonal. The toilets have no windows, the rooms are too small, I keep stumbling on the furniture, nothing works and please shut me up. For the love of God, shut me up.”
Bernie steps closer and Serena feels her hands slides delicately on her hips. She kisses Serena’s lips and then looks at her with questioning eyes. Serena nods and Bernie kisses her again, this time doesn’t stop.
They stand in the small hallway kissing slowly. It’s like Bernie is learning something. Tasting Serena over and over again. Whenever Serena gets impatient she gently placates her. And Serena gets easily impatient. Her mind keeps running ahead. Will they take their clothes off? Will they have sex? Will it be good? Will Serena be good at it? She just wants to go on and get her answers. But Bernie just kisses her, uses her hands to keep Serena still, and Serena kisses her back because she doesn’t really know how to stop. And after awhile she realizes she doesn’t want to. Once she quits thinking about what’s going to happen and focuses on what’s happening she enjoys every little details. The way Bernie sucks intently at her bottom lip or she nips at it or how her fingers dig in Serena’s hips when she deepens the kiss.
And suddenly Bernie’s hand is between her legs, tentative at first and then a little harder. Serena moves trying to feel more through her clothes and thinks that the bed is so close but those few steps seems like a thousand miles. She’s hot and wet and ready and Bernie must know that, she must feel the same. Serena slips her hand down Bernie’s body and when she touches her, Bernie gasps and looks at her with wide eyes. She looks so surprised and that’s not the reaction Serena was hoping for.
“Is it…”
But Bernie kisses her again and Serena starts moving her fingers, just mimicking what the other is already doing, until they can’t breathe anymore and Bernie’s head falls on Serena’s shoulder. Serena pulls her closer and everything around them fades away.

They stay still until Serena has to take a step back to keep her balance. Bernie steadies her for a moment and then lets her go. They’re flushed and sweaty, their hair are messy but they’re still perfectly dressed. Bernie glances at the door and Serena can see her calculating how quickly she could leave the room.
“Seriously?” Serena says mildly offended.
Bernie looks at her sheepishly.
“If you want to go, by all means do. Otherwise, come here because I’m not done with you.”
“Well, if you put it so kindly.” Bernie smirks and Serena tries to hide her relief.
“This time naked, though.”
“Other requests?”
“I’ll let you know when something comes to mind.” Serena starts unbuttoning her own shirt and the playful smile disappears from Bernie’s face. Serena laughs nervously. “You’re looking at me like you’ve never seen a woman undressing before.”
“I… I’m seeing you for the first time.”
“You’re just being cheesy, now.”
“Yes, I’m not as perfect as I appear.”
“Let’s see.” Serena takes Bernie’s coat down her shoulders and throws it on a chair. She kisses her and pushes up her shirt but Bernie’s hands grab her wrists. Serena frowns at her and Bernie looks away. She slowly frees Serena’s hands and Serena takes off her shirt. There’s a long scar in the middle of her chest and Serena counts all the different procedures that could have cause it. Then looks up and sees the worry in Bernie’s eyes. “Battle scars are cool but I was more interested in your arse.” Serena smiles and prays that she’s said the right thing.
Bernie gapes in mock horror. “Aren’t you a bit shallow?”
“What can I say I was married to a shallow man for so long, it must have stuck with me. Now…” Serena flicks the button on Bernie’s slacks open. “May I see the rest?”
“You may.”

They kiss each other and fumbles with what is left of their clothes. Serena loses her balance and takes Bernie on the bed with her. “You’re not very stable, are you?” Bernie protests.
“I didn’t know we were training for Strictly Come Dancing.” Serena retorts sliding up the bed. “And it did the trick, didn’t it?”
Bernie trails her fingers on Serena’s calf. “I didn’t mean to offend you.” But she’s clearly not sorry at all. “I understand you wanted me in your bed by any means necessary.”
“And you so generously let me.”
“I’m very generous.” Bernie says bending Serena knee and spreading her legs.
Serena opens her mouth but nothing comes out. She holds her hand up for Bernie to take and Bernie smiles to reassure her. “It’s ok.”
Bernie gets on her knees and slowly comes over Serena, one hand on each side of Serena’s shoulders. “It’s ok.” She says again and Serena nods.
Serena pulls at her hip and Bernie slides down on her. They kiss and Serena’s legs close around Bernie. One hand buried in blond hair and the other still on her hip, trying to push her closer. Bernie starts rocking on her and Serena thinks how familiar and completely different this feels but it’s just a notion in the back of her mind. What’s overwhelming is the heat of Bernie’s skin, how she perfectly fits between her legs, how incredibly thrilling this is, how incredibly safe she feels. And this is nothing much, really, just two body touching and Serena can’t even begin to wonder what would be doing something more, she’s sure she couldn’t handle it right now, she just hopes that Bernie is as happy as she is. When Bernie stops kissing her, Serena is scared but Bernie only stares at her. Her eyes are so thin and black now. Her pupils are completely dilated. She seems lost and far, far away until Serena digs her nails in her skin and Bernie’s gaze is focused again. “Sorry.” She starts moving her hips faster. “Sorry.” She dips her head on Serena’s neck. “Sorry.”
Serena moves her legs up and Bernie pushes harder and harder. She says sorry again and Serena reaches for her mouth, kisses her because she doesn’t want to know what Bernie’s sorry for. There’s only one thing that matters right now and Bernie gives it to her.

Bernie doesn’t ask much of her after. They touch and kiss and explore and Serena feels like a teenager again. But she’s not and this is so much better. They somehow fall asleep under the cover until Serena is woken up by a soft sob. The lights are still on and she sees tears around Bernie’s closed eyes. She doesn’t know what do, so she just holds her hand. Bernie’s breathing suddenly change but she doesn’t move and after a while Serena falls asleep again.

Chapter Text

The next morning Serena wakes up alone in a messy bed. She stirs lazily, vaguely relieved she doesn’t have to make uncomfortable conversation with a stranger so early in the morning. But then she turns around and Bernie’s scent is on the pillow. She pushes it away but it’s on the sheets too. Serena sits up groaning and passes her hands on her face. The scent is there as well, sex and sandalwood and the memory of infinite warmth.
She looks at her mobile, it’s ten past eight, she doesn’t have much time to get ready. She calls for room service and goes into the shower.

The conference room is quite huge. There’s a podium and rows of red chairs like in a theatre. Serena takes a side one, not really feeling in the mood for eye contact with the speakers or anyone for that matter. She places her purse next to her and takes out her laptop hoping it’s charged. She should have checked the night before but… she was distracted. It’s probably a good thing that she is in a hotel so when she goes back in her room there will be no traces of Bernie to get all sentimental over.
“Hello!” A cheerful voice from the chair behind her makes Serena jump. She turns around and Bernie is smiling at her like everything it’s perfectly normal.
“What are you doing here? It’s a medical conference.”
“I know.” Bernie says guiltily showing her badge.
Serena has to squeeze her eyes to read it. ‘B.G. Wolfe, Trauma Surgeon.’ “What’s the G for?” They both look at each other surprised. Of all the questions this is the last they expected. “Never mind, I don’t care.” Serena takes a moment to reorganize her thoughts. “I don’t even know where to start. You said you were a Major.”
“I am but I’ll start working as a civilian in a couple of weeks.”
It still feels like a lie but Serena struggles to make a better point. “I told you I hated doctors.”
“Yes, but since you are one it didn’t seem such a strict rule.”
“You knew I was a doctor?” Serena forces her voice down, angered and embarrassed for having been played so easily.
“No… Well, I might have guessed that you were here for the conference.” Bernie looks behind Serena and hurries up. “Listen, I’m sorry I blurred the line a bit. But it was fun, right?”
“Fun?”
Bernie stands up and smiles to someone else. “I have to go, see you later.”
Serena watches her in disbelief going to talk to a man. They hug and Bernie calls him Professor. He’s old enough to really have been one of her teachers. Bernie brings him not too subtly away but the old man is the last of Serena’s concerns.

She tries to focus on the conference but her attention keeps falling on Bernie. She’s sitting a few rows in front of Serena, looking just like a bored, disheveled teenager. She’s got a notebook and a pen but Serena is sure she’s just doodling. So, that’s the woman she’s slept with, a doctor who doodles and blurs the line. Serena tries to be angrier but does she has the right to be? She can hardly pretend complete honesty from a one night stand, it kind of goes against the purpose. And that’s what Bernie is, a one night stand. The speaker had stooped for a short interval, and Serena feels a presence next to her.
“Hello again, sorry for before.” Bernie sits and gives her a cup of coffee. “Peace offering.”
“It’s from the open bar. You must think very little of me and my ability to take grudges to the grave.”
“Ouch. Let me buy you dinner then.” But Bernie immediately seems unsure of what she just asked.
“I have plans, but thanks.” Serena doesn’t even know why she saved her. “So, show me your masterpiece.”
“What…”
But Serena has already snatched her notebook. “Oh goodness. I do hope you hold the scalpel better than the pen. I can’t tell if it’s a S, very flattery by the way even if in a slightly creepy kind of way, or a snake, decisively less flattery.”
Bernie turns the drawing horizontally. “It’s clearly a mountain. The Dolomites, to be more specific.” She takes the notebook back and pouts. “I didn’t know you were such an art expert.”
“Well, I do find beauty quite irresistible on occasions.” Serena pats Bernie’s knee.
“Am I sensing a compliment?” Bernie flirts back but it’s all playful and light.
Serena can’t help a smile. “You wish.”

When the speaker resumes his speech, they listen in silence. Bernie makes the pen roll between her fingers and the constant movement at the corner of her eye bothers Serena. She turns to tell Bernie to stop but Bernie is staring at her so intently that Serena has to look away. At lunch she goes in her room. Everything is clean and in order, like nothing ever happened. When she comes back Bernie is sitting on the other side of the room and that’s how they spend the afternoon.

Serena has dinner with a few colleagues. She’s distracted and exhaust even after all the tension of being in the same room with Bernie has finally left her. It’s not the first time she’s slept with a stranger but it’s far from a habit either. Is she supposed to obsess over it? Reliving every little detail while laughing at bizarre medical procedures with old acquaintances? Honestly, it’s all Bernie’s fault and the way she moved on Serena for hours if she can still feel the pressure on her skin, even now in a well-lit restaurant, pushing vegetables in her plate. It’s Bernie’s persistence that Serena keeps coming to, that makes her wet again when she shouldn’t. It’s Bernie’s stubbornness, wanting something so much that she wouldn’t stop until she gets it, over and over. Serena is not sure what Bernie was really looking for, she knows it’s not just Serena herself. But it didn’t matter being a mean to get somewhere else, just witnessing Bernie getting there was quite miraculous. What a silly thought, Serena scolds herself. She shouldn’t read too much in the events of last night. And this was hardly the time in life to start putting a lover’s needs in front of hers.

Thank God the dinner didn’t last long and when her colleagues decided to visit a pub nearby, Serena excused herself and walked back to the hotel. It’s freezing and she remembers Bernie’s hug to warm her. How easily she stepped in and how uncomfortable Bernie was. She turns the corner and smiles seeing Bernie smoking near the entrance. She’s wearing the same coat but she has a burgundy, ample scarf around her neck and a black leather glove on the hand that’s not holding the cigarette.
“Waiting for someone?”
Bernie turns to her with a little smirk. “Just testing my luck. Enjoyed your dinner?”
“Very much.”
“That’s why you came back so early and alone?”
Serena shrugs. “I get bored easily.”
“I didn’t notice.” Bernie says with mock innocence.
Serena sighs and takes Bernie’s hand. She pulls it to her mouth, making sure Bernie can feel her lips on her fingers. She drags slowly a smoke and lets it go. “You’ll make me start again.”
“We’re no good for each other.” Bernie says without thinking, her face flushed, her mind so clearly running ahead.
“No.” Serena says and the fact that’s probably true seems completely irrelevant right now.
Bernie slides two fingers between the buttons of Serena’s coat and pulls her closer. “I have lots of bad habits.”
“Do you want to share?” Serena whispers, her lips millimeters from Bernie’s, never quite touching them. When she dips in Bernie moves away. “My room.”
Serena nods and Bernie takes her hand. She lets her drag her to the hotel door, feels the cold leather of the glove under her skin and when they get inside Bernie lets her hand go. Serena frowns for a moment and then understands. She must have slowed down at some point because Bernie is keeping the elevator open and seems impatient.
“Are you in a hurry?”
“A bit.” Bernie pushes for the fifth floor and leans with her shoulder against the metal wall. Serena is behind her and is starting to get repetitive this constant feeling of being left behind somehow, that she’s the one that needs to catch up. The doors open and Bernie walks out unfastening her coat, freeing herself of the scarf. Serena worries that Bernie will get to her room already naked. But then she looks with more attention, her movements are stiff and nervous. Bernie is not excited, just anxious. And Serena wonders how she can change mood so rapidly, like being two people at once. She walks faster and stops in front of Bernie just to realize that she has nothing to say to calm her down. Bernie stares at her and apparently that’s enough. Her features soften and her hands fall on Serena’s hips. Bernie tilts her head and kisses her, pushes Serena’s backwards against the next door. Serena closes her eyes just to open them up again when the door behind her gives in. Bernie holds her up, turns on the bed lamps and divests both of them from their coats. Serena can’t even pretend not to envy how smooth Bernie is in everything she does. Bernie’s lips are on her neck and Serena is pressed again against something, a wall this time. There’s a drawer next to her and Serena leans on it when Bernie holds on her hips and kneels in front of her. She takes Serena’s shoes off and runs her hands under her skirt to grab the rim of her stockings pulling them down with her knickers. She throws them away and finally looks up. Serena gives her a smile to say that’s ok, that everything is ok because even if they didn’t do this yesterday it’s hardy a novelty. And this silly feeling that something is missing and slightly wrong doesn’t matter at all because the two of them, Bernie, sleeping together won’t matter at all in a few hours. But Bernie frowns in worry and Serena knows that she wasn’t very convincing. Bernie stands up and kisses her cheek. It’s sweet and so much more than what they’ve bargained for. Serena turns away and Bernie nuzzles at her short hair just behind her ear. “I’ve been thinking about you all day. All the things we’ve done and all the things we didn’t.” She pulls at Serena’s skirt with both hands and steps back enough to catch her gaze. “I want to do them all.”
Serena doesn’t say anything because Bernie’s eyes are so full of desire she wants to absorb as much as she can. But Bernie presses her leg between hers and the moment she gasps, Bernie whispers please and Serena is lost.
Bernie kisses her until Serena pushes down at her shoulders, then she smiles and gets on her knees again. Serena sighs. Once, twice, waiting. But there’s nothing missing now, nothing is wrong. The way Bernie’s lips feel on her thigh, the way her hands grab at her flesh, how Bernie slowly gets her breathing even and regular. Yes, this is hardly a novelty but it’s completely new. And Serena finds herself praying that it’s just a woman thing. That it would be like this with any woman. She prays it’s not just Bernie. But then Bernie takes her in her mouth and Serena forgets to care about anything else.

When Bernie stands up she holds Serena tight. Serena is almost sure she heard her giggle, but why would she? “I want to do that all night.” She sounds out of breath and cheerful and innocent. This is a new version of Bernie. After the cool and dark one, the anxious one, now the playful one. Serena thinks that she likes them all right now but being half naked and wet and satisfied doesn’t make her the best judge. Sure it’s very hard to resist when Bernie pushes her on the bed and makes good to her promise.

When Serena wakes up it’s still night. Bernie’s face is covered by blond locks, Serena wants to move them away but stops with her hand midair. She has to redress and go to her room. There’s a bottle of water on the drawer and she takes a sip, then she tries to find her clothes scattered around the room. She sits on the chair next to the desk to put on her shoes but a folder catches her attention. It’s Bernie’s presentation. It’s just a print from a Word document to go over before the actual presentation with Powerpoint and pretty pictures, Serena guesses.
She just wanted to give a look but she went on to read the whole thing. She’s just closing the folder when Bernie’s angry voice makes her startle.
“What the hell are you doing?” Bernie runs off the bed and yanks the folder out of her hands.
Serena watches her checking what else is on the desk. She’s angry and Serena can imagine how intimidating she would be in her army uniform. But Bernie is naked now and there’s a red spot on her left breast that Serena is sure she put there. “I didn’t steal anything, you’re overreacting.”
“You read this while I was sleeping. You’re overstepping.”
“I didn’t mean to, I’m sorry. It’s just… so good, Bernie. Really good.”
“Thanks.”
Bernie is taken aback from the compliment and Serena is almost sorry to go on. “But you’re not gonna win.”
Bernie leans on the desk, interested. And for a moment it looks like a real work conversation. “Why?”
“It’s great for the healthcare, spot on, it’s terrible for management. It’s just unfeasible as it is, you need someone with business background to back you up.”
“Who? You?” Bernie laughs and reaches for the t-shirt hanging from Serena’s chair.
Serena watches her put it on. “It’s just a pity because my work and yours together would be perfect. Unluckily for you I’m gonna win anyway.” Serena states flatly. She would have been cocky in any other circumstance but maybe it’s the hour of the night or the shortness of Bernie’s shirt that makes her lose determination. “I’ll let you sleep, now.” Serena stands up and searches for her coat. It’s on the floor near the door and she bends down to retrieve it. When she gets up Bernie is in front of her. “Yes?” Serena asks, not really understanding what Bernie’s doing. She doesn’t want to be kissed goodbye, she regrets having woken her up at all.
“Stay a little longer.” Bernie whispers and takes away the coat from Serena.
Of course Bernie didn’t want to kiss her goodnight. Serena blushes a little at her own gullibility. “Didn’t you had enough?” It comes harsher than intended.
Bernie tilts her head, at first confused and then with plain defiance. “Did you?”
Serena won’t lie but won’t answer either. She puts her hand flat on Bernie’s chest and pushes a little harder than necessary. Bernie hits the wall and smiles taking off her shirt. Serena kisses her and waits until she has to ask even though she knows the answer. “Don’t you want to take off my clothes?”
“No.” Bernie says slightly bothered by the useless long kiss, taking Serena’s hand between her legs.
Serena moves her fingers, finds her already so wet and wonders how can she feel so good just touching someone else, knowing she won’t be touched back, that all that matters to Bernie is to come. Has Serena ever been so selfish? Yes, many times, but she’s never been so generous. She slips inside and feels Bernie’s leg rubs on hers. Serena holds it up and thrusts another finger inside. Bernie closes her eyes, her lips are parted and suddenly all that matters to Serena is to make her come.

When it’s over Serena goes to the bathroom to wash her hands. When she comes back Bernie is in bed, face buried in the pillow. Serena takes her coat and leaves the room.

Chapter Text

It’s the second day of the conference, Serena takes a sit quickly scanning the room for Bernie, but she isn’t in yet. Serena checks her emails while the first speaker starts his presentation. Nothing urgent but she smiles at a pic of Raf and Fletch sitting at her desk with a small text attached, ‘everything under control’. She wishes she could say the same. A couple of hours later the host introduces the last speaker before lunch. Miss Berenice Wolfe, former Major and soon to be head of AAU at St. James, Holby. Serena is not sure she heard correctly. She grabs the conference brochure from her purse and looks for Bernie’s name. She already did that yesterday and there’s nothing she missed. There is nothing about St. James or Holby. She should have asked. But why would she? The host is chatting with Bernie, complimenting her for the new job. Bernie keeps her answers short and her head down. Serena pushes her bag on the floor with a loud bang and everybody turns to her, she catches Bernie’s eyes and watches her blush. “Sorry, don’t mind me!” Serena apologizes, with a big, fake smile.
Bernie regains focus after a couple of false starts and her presentation is a success. When the lights turn on again the host asks if there are any questions. Serena is very tempted but she stands up and leaves.

Once in her room she kicks her shoes off and lays on the bed. She can accept white lies, blurring the line and not baring one’s soul to a complete stranger. But this? This is deliberately withholding a fundamental information. It changes everything and what hurts most, even if it shouldn’t, it changes how she sees Bernie. She hadn’t even realized how much of the time not spent in bed with her she’s used to create an image of Bernie in her head, filling the gaps, giving her a personality, a life. Making her whole in her mind, not perfect but so much better than what she’s facing now.
A soft knock on the door makes her groan. “Go away.”
“Housekeeping.” Bernie murmurs.
“You really can’t help yourself with the lies, can you?” Serena shakes her head and opens the door. “What do you want?”
“Talk? To see how mad you are.”
“Quite.” Serena looks at her standing in the corridor, fidgeting with the shoulder strap of her bag. “Did you know we were going to be neighbors when we met?”
“I… wasn’t completely sure but then you said your name… It’s not like there are lots of women at this conference. Or at any emergency or trauma meetings. It’s still a boy’s…”
“This is hardly the time for a feminist lecture.”
“Of course, sorry.” She glances down the corridor where the elevator is opening. “Can I come in?”
Serena hears voices coming their way and steps back. Bernie puts her bag down and when she sees herself in the mirror she halts for a moment then pulls down at the rim of her sweater and breathes out. “What I’m trying to say is that this doesn’t change anything. Living in the same city, it’s irrelevant. What happened between us is inconsequential, it’s nothing. It’s only real here, once we leave…”
Bernie’s voice comes off mechanical, like she rehearsed this pathetic little speech of hers one too many times. Serena rolls her eyes and cuts her short. “I’m glad you have it all figure it out but when we crash carts at Tesco…”
“I’ll pretend I don’t know you.”
“But you do.”
“No, I don’t. And you don’t know me.”
Serena bites her lip, this is starting to sound alarmingly like bickering. She stares at Bernie until she dips her hands in her pockets and opens her mouth to babble something. But Serena is quicker. “I do have an idea.” Serena smiles like she always smiles before tearing someone’s head off. Enjoying the look of uncertainty in Bernie’s eyes. “You are a manipulative, lying twat.” Her voice is calm but when she steps forward Bernie steps back. “I should be angry at you right now, that’s why you are here. To apologize. Instead you try to hurt me, making me feel small, telling me how much I don’t matter.” She keeps walking until Bernie’s calfs hit the bed. “But if you’d paid attention these last two days you would’ve learnt that no one can make me feel small and that I know perfectly well how much I matter. Even to you, even right now.”
“Serena…”
“Shut up.” Serena pushes her on the bed and straddles her. “You might have misunderstood my previous anger for caring at all about you or this little arraignment. Allow me to clear that up for you. The only thing I care about is not being lied to.” Serena pauses for a moment before adding. “Well, two things I care about.” She grabs not too politely Bernie’s chin. “And you’d better deliver at least one of them.”

It feels great to be in control, not to let Bernie explore and taste and take her time. She loved it before but Serena needs something else today. And then Bernie has to go and ruin her small victory, liking it so much, too much. It bothers Serena to no end watching Bernie taking everything she gives her with such unconditional pleasure. It makes her lose her mind, makes her tear at Bernie’s clothes with haste, squeeze her breast too hard but Bernie only arches her back in response. Serena kisses her with her mouth open just to stop her from moaning so bloody loud. She pushes her slacks and knickers down to her knees. Bernie moves her legs trying to free herself but Serena lays on her and Bernie immediately gives up. Serena watches Bernie just waiting for her, waiting for what comes next. It’s maddening, it’s not at all what Serena wants. But she shoves her fingers inside anyway because there’s nothing else to do. And she can hear Bernie breathing out, as if for a moment she doubted Serena would do it. She gives Serena a little smile and Serena swears she’s gonna fuck it off her face. When she does and Bernie comes, Serena can’t help but feeling played again, like that was Bernie’s plan all along.

When Serena tries to extricate herself Bernie pushes her on her back and leaves small kisses behind her ear. “Stay here.” She whispers softly.
“Lunch break is almost over.”
“Didn’t you ever skip class?”
Bernie’s low voice is as soothing as her fingers tracing figures on the nape of Serena’s neck. “No. Actually yes, once.”
“Why?” Bernie’s kisses are lazy but incessant.
Serena wonders if it’s an attempt to appease her and how successful. “For a boy.”
“Was it worth it?”
“Twenty years later I divorced the arsehole. So, it probably wasn’t.”
Bernie shifts position to gain better access to Serena’s collarbone, but her legs are still trapped in her slacks so she doesn’t get far. “This time would be for a girl.”
“It doesn’t feel like an improvement. Are you even remotely sorry?” She adds flatly, just tired of this pointless conversation. Bernie tenses and Serena unconsciously strokes her naked back until she relaxes again.
Bernie stands on her elbow and looks down at her. “I am. And I am not. I should have told you that I knew who you were and about my new job. But…”
“But?”
“You have to understand that I didn’t mean for any of this to happen but when it did… I should feel sorry, regret what I did but I can’t, I just want to be selfish and greedy and not thinking about tomorrow. It’s not a justification. I’m just trying to explain myself the best I can.”
It’s not what Serena expected but she asked for the truth and she thinks she’s got it. Serena tucks a few blond locks behind Bernie’s ear. “You really are a bloody mess, aren’t you?” And making Bernie selfish and greedy is somehow flattering, disturbingly so.
“Not in every department.” Bernie reaches behind her and makes Serena’s hand resume the massage.
“Such as?”
“Well, as you might have noticed, I’ve been entrusted with a whole ward.”
“Yes…” Serena licks her lips her looks around. “I meant to say… St. James is such a cute hospital, congratulations.”
“Cute?”
“Cute. Mine is huge but yours is cute. A pretty good place to start.”
Bernie gasps. “Did you really just go there?”
“I believe I did.”
“You’ll pay for that.”
It’s a bit of a struggle getting rid of her slacks but when she finally does Serena is laughing and waiting for her.

Serena is ushering Bernie in the bathroom. The waiter with their dinner has just knocked and, as Serena knows well by now, Bernie has no sense of modesty when it comes to her body and would have open the door half naked. Serena just wants to protect the waiter’s blushes. She gives the boy a tip and takes the heavy silver tray from him.
“Serena?”
“Clear.” Serena places the tray on the bed an removes the covers from their plates.
“I’m starving.” She’s about to get on the bed when her mobile rings. Bernie takes it out of her bag and silences it.
“Do you have to answer it?”
“Later. Food first.”
They sit next of each other and eat their pasta. They pick from each others plate and Bernie pours the wine. “I was thinking…”
“Yes?”
“I could go to my room to brush my teeth and grab a shirt. When we finish dinner.”
“As long as you put your pants on I have no objections.”
“Yes, I mean… then come back here… Spend the night. Maybe.”
“I understood the first time, Bernie.” She takes a sip of wine. “We could watch telly, make fun of some medical drama. Or braid each others hair. Your hair. I never longed this hard to brush anyone’s hair in my life.”
“Ha. Fuck you.”
“Yes, that’s definitely on the agenda.”

Bernie dresses up and leaves with her bag that has her phone inside. But Serena won’t think about it, won’t spoil her good mood. She puts the covers back on the plates and leaves the tray outside the door. She takes a quick shower and brushes her teeth. When she comes back in the bedroom she makes the bed and folds her clothes. Then looks around, all is neat and tidy, and for a moment Serena is sure she had imagined everything. A single knock on the door takes her back to reality. Bernie is wearing a long beige sweater with a deep V neck on a pair of yoga pants. “I took the stairs.”
“I made the bed.” Serena goes along with this nonsensical exchange before noticing a frown on Bernie’s face. “Are you ok?”
“In general or right now?”
Serena doesn’t like her tone so she looks at what she’s holding in her hands and changes topic. “A shirt, your key and cigarettes.”
“I pack light.”
“You won’t smoke in my room.”
“There’s a balcony. I could go alone or we can take the spare blanket and go together.”
“You really planned this thing.”
“If you want to be a smoker, you need to be resourceful.” Bernie smiles and plays with the towel wrapped around Serena. “You should take this off.”
“I will. And then I’ll put on everything in my suitcase to follow you in the cold outside.”
“Good.” Bernie’s mood has improved and she hums while she looks for the blanket in the wardrobe.
Serena changes in her nightwear, takes a cardigan and her coat too for good measure. “You’re clearly trying to sabotage my presentation tomorrow.”
“My competitiveness knows no boundaries.” Bernie says opening the door to the balcony. She sits on the armchair and laughs at the expression of pure horror on Serena’s face.
“You really want to kill me.”
“Come here.” Bernie pats her knees and Serena hesitates. “You let me spread your legs but you won’t sit on my lap?”
Serena rolls her eyes. “You’ve been a soldier too long.” She takes a sit on Bernie’s lap pulling up her legs and Bernie covers them both with the blanket.
“You’ll be fine in a minute.” Bernie says lighting a cigarette.
Serena knows she’s right because Bernie’s warmth is more than enough for both of them. She lays her head on Bernie’s shoulder and looks at the lights of the city. She’s almost never left the hotel since she arrived. It could be any city in the world. Tomorrow evening she has a train to catch but now she’s too comfortable to care, Bernie smokes in silence and the sight is lovely.

Chapter Text

Serena is the first speaker on the last day. Talking in public has never been a problem but she likes to be prepared. So she wakes up at six, puts on her abandoned nightgown, goes to the loo and comes back to bed with her laptop. Her glasses are on the bed table, she grabs them and starts reading her notes. Her right hand wanders until it finds soft hair on a pillow. Serena smiles and strokes lazily the sleeping head next to her. Bernie slides closer, one arm on Serena’s legs. They stay like this until Serena closes her laptop half an hour later and lays it on the floor. She’s left the bathroom’s light on so now she can watch Bernie without waking her up. The duvet is halfway down her back, her breathing is steady and regular and the line of her neck is just perfect. I’d like to keep you, very much, Serena thinks and slips under the cover next to her. She traces a line down her spine, over the swell of her bottom and the side of her thigh. Then up again, without a clear intention, just because today she can and tomorrow she won’t.
“This is a nice way of waking up.” Bernie’s voice is hoarse and muffled by the pillow. She moves slightly her head but keeps her eyes closed. “Hi.”
“Hi.” Serena strokes her hair away. “You can sleep a little bit more, it’s early.”
Bernie pulls her closer. “Five minutes.”
Serena repeats her presentation in her minds, visualizes the images, the words. Imagines herself speaking. Anything not to sink into Bernie’s embrace, not to abandon herself completely in Bernie’s arms.
“I have to warn you, I’m not a morning person.” Bernie murmurs a few minutes later.
“I gathered.”
“No, I mean…” She rubs her face on Serena’s shoulder. “I don’t like morning sex. Not my thing.”
“How presumptuous of you.”
Bernie opens slightly her eyes. “Are you trying to deny that you weren’t thinking about it?”
“I’m an open book.” Serena smiles and Bernie makes herself comfortable on the creak of her neck.
“Yes, well, don’t get your hopes too high.”
“I won’t.” Serena brushes her thumb on Bernie’s hip and closes her eyes.
“You don’t even put a little fight?”
“Do you want me to?”
“’Course not.” Bernie slurs like an indignant sleepy, child would.
“Ok.” Serena leans on her elbow and Bernie slides on her back. “What about this, I’ll give you one kiss and then you’ll tell me how you feel.” Bernie nods. “Close your eyes.”
Serena pushes the cover away and settles on her knees between Bernie’s legs. She starts nuzzling at her neck and slowly trails down to her collarbone, her breast.
“You’re not kissing me.”
“Shush.” Serena keeps traveling down, just touching Bernie with her nose and cheek, ever so lightly. Until she gets to her hips and Bernie jerks away.
“Ticklish?”
“Yes.”
“Sorry.” She nestles between Bernie’s thighs and takes a moment to think of what she’s about to do.
“I love doing it to you, Serena. It’s more than enough for me.” All the sleepy and childish tones are gone from her voice, Bernie’s completely awake and present.
And Serena is too. “I’m not having doubts.” She leans on Bernie’s sex, she knows her scent so well by now, and she’s always so warm. “Regrets, maybe, for waiting so long.” She whispers before finally giving the kiss she promised.

“I should let you prepare for your presentation.” Bernie is nipping Serena’s neck. They’re flushed and happy and horribly late.
“I thought you wanted to sabotage it.” Serena squeezes Bernie’s arse and Bernie slides her knee between Serena’s legs.
“Am I doing a good job?”
“You’re sure giving everything you’ve got.” Serena is already breathless again.
Bernie rocks on her while her fingers runs down Serena’s belly. “It’s nice being appreciated.”
“You are.” Serena grabs Bernie’s hand just in time. “But unfortunately this has to stay away from my body.” She stamps a kiss on Bernie’s lips and stands up to go to the bathroom. “I’m taking a shower, be a dear and call for breakfast.” She pokes her head out a moment later. “Am I going to find you here?”
“Well… you have things to do and…”
Serena rolls her eyes and comes back to bed straddling Bernie. “I’ll fuck you again after breakfast.”
Bernie smiles and steals a kiss. “Alright then.”
Serena shakes her head and returns to the bathroom closing the door.
“You’re not going to fuck me after breakfast, are you?”
“No, you bloody moron, look at the fucking time!” Serena shouts and turns on the shower.

When Serena is almost done with her make-up the breakfast arrives. She hears Bernie talking with the waiter and moving around the room. It’s all so normal and familiar, no one would believe they’re just playing along with a merciful fantasy. Even Serena can’t tell with absolute certainty what’s real and what’s not when she leaves the bathroom and sees Bernie sitting crossed legged on the unmade bed. She’s wearing her clothes of the night before, her hair covering her face while she pours coffee in both cups. When Bernie turns around they stare at each other unsure between the lie and the truth.
“You look… good.”
Bernie’s eyes are longing and sad and Serena chooses for both of them. “Thanks for the burst of encouragement!”
“Beautiful. I mean… a proper, very professional doctor.”
“Thank you Bernie, I know how much it costs you to make complete sentences.”
“That’s not true.” Bernie pouts, to make the charade more credible.
Now that they’ve settled the right tone Serena walks to the bed. “A twenty minutes speech about how much you enjoy oral sex doesn’t really count.”
Bernie blushes and mutters. “Says who?”
“Is that pan au chocolate?” Serena asks already grabbing it. She takes a bite and sits next to Bernie.
“You’ll have to brush your teeth again.”
“Yes, why?”
“And put on lipstick again.”
“Is there a point?”
“So you don’t mind if I…” Bernie kisses her. It’s sweet and long and Serena is still holding her brioche when it’s over.
“I…” Serena begins and Bernie’s eyes get wide. “Nothing, sorry. What times is it?” She gets off the bed with her heart beating fast and her palms sweating. She grabs her mobile but it slips from her hand. “Shit.” She takes it up again and looks at the time. “Shit.” She drinks her coffee and burns her tongue. “I have to go. Will you be there for my presentation?”
“I’ll have to change first but I want to.”
“Good.” Serena nods and goes to the bathroom. She quickly brushes her teeth and re-applies her make-up. When she opens the door Bernie is there holding her bag. “Do you have everything?”
“Yes.” She quickly kisses Bernie’ lips. “See you later.”
Serena wants to make fun of how this looks like a scene from a soppy film but the words die in her mouth.

She’s just started her presentation when Bernie opens a sidedoor and silently takes a sit. Serena smiles and keeps talking. It’s easier like this, with a script, a microphone and a podium between them. She even wants to be funny, make her laugh a bit. And when she shows a small video she looks at Bernie leaning back with her legs too long to be comfortable between two narrow rows of chairs. She’s playing constantly with her pen, her hair a little less messy than usual and Serena thinks I hit that. She contains a chuckle and can’t wait to tell Bernie, she’ll appreciate the sentiment immensely. The video stops as she realizes she won’t see Bernie again. The silence stretches and Serena notices only when Bernie sits straighter, worried. “It took my minions ages to make this video, I just wanted to be sure you appreciated it.” She smiles charmingly and keeps going.

Serena has been up for twelve hours and will be for a lot more when she knocks at Bernie’s room.
“Hi.” Bernie says a little surprised. “Did you come to gloat?”
Serena waves smugly a little trophy with her name on it. “Maybe.”
Bernie squints her eyes. “It’s awfully small.”
“It will be easier to place among all the others.”
“Ha. Come inside, I’m almost done packing.”
Serena walks in and leaves the trophy on the drawer. “I’ve heard you came a very close second.”
“You know how I like to let you go first.” Bernie frowns. “Sorry.”
“No, it’s ok.” Serena smiles and adds without thinking. “Maybe next year…” Bernie tenses and Serena tries to correct her mistake. “Maybe you’ll win some other time.”
They stand awkwardly in silence until Bernie kneels down to her suitcase to close it up.
Serena looks at her, regretting having come at all. “I should go now…”
Bernie’s phone rings and she stands up to retrieve it from the bed table. She glances at the caller id and silences it. “When does your train leave?”
“An hour. Yours?”
“No, I have my car.” She puts her phone down and sighs. “Serena…”
“Yes?”
“We are clear, right? I’m sorry to ask you that but I don’t want misunderstandings.”
“Yes, I know you come with terms and conditions. And yes, I did sign them.”
“Thank you.”
“No, darling, I’m not doing it for you.” Serena didn’t want to embark in this conversation but the relief on Bernie’s face it’s hurtful enough to make her want to set the record straight. “I don’t know why you want to end it here. It might be because you don’t like me enough, obviously, and it’s entirely possible. But I somehow doubt it has anything to do with me at all. You are so worried about holding your secrets tight to your chest that you probably don’t even realize how easily I could access them with barely a couple of calls or a look on Facebook. You might not have an account but I bet right now you’re thinking how many of the people close to you have one.”
Bernie’s body shift slightly. “If this is a threat..”
Even if Bernie keeps her expression blank, Serena can sense an earthquake underneath. She wonders if that’s the look of a soldier a moment before battle but Serena doesn’t want to fight. So she softens her tone, gives her a reassuring smile and hopes for the best. “Of course not, Bernie. Don’t you know me at all? I won’t look for your reasons. I don’t care about them at all. That’s not even the point.”
Bernie’s shoulders loose a bit of their tension. “What is?”
“I like you Bernie, very much.” It startles Serena how easily she can say it out loud. And it’s a relief to see that Bernie doesn’t understand the depth of her words at all. “These three days have been amazing and I haven’t been this happy and alive in such a long time. Finding out what you’re hiding would only ruin the memory, wouldn’t it? And a pleasant, perfect memory is the only thing I ever asked of you.” Serena walks to her and takes Bernie’s hand between hers, hoping that simple contact will mitigate her next words. “You are no good for me. You’d just end up hurting me with all the secrets and lies. You’re so scared Bernie. Scared shitless all the time. And scared animal are the most dangerous creatures. So, you see, I’m just saving myself. As much as it pains me right now.”
Bernie’s eyes are hurt and wide. Serena holds her gaze until it’s too much to bear. “Well, I have a train to catch.” She squeezes Bernie’s hand and lets it go.
When she’s almost at the door, Bernie calls her.
“Yes?”
“You forgot your trophy.”
“Oh, that silly thing.” She goes back to the drawer but Bernie is faster and takes it before her.
“I didn’t tell you…” Bernie looks down at the shiny item in her hands. “I really liked your presentation.”
“Thank you.” Serena tries to take the trophy but Bernie doesn’t let it go. “Bernie…”
“I just…” Bernie breathes out in frustration.
“I know.”
Bernie looks up with more curiosity than hope. “Do you?”
“Yes. Come here.” Serena opens her arms and Bernie gingerly hugs her.
“You’re as stiff as the first time.”
“Sorry.” Bernie slowly melts in the embrace and they stay like this until it gets too comfortable to go on.
When they pull apart Bernie tries to kiss her on the cheek while Serena goes for the mouth. They clash against each other and laugh for a moment. But Bernie sobers up fast and stares in Serena’s eyes before kissing her on the lips. All the awkwardness vanishes.
“This is better, right?” Serena whispers when the kiss ends with their foreheads still touching. “A better goodbye than a fight.”
Bernie nods. “Goodbye Serena.”
Serena smiles and steps back. “I’ll put this in front of all the others, honor place.” She says taking the trophy.
“You’d better.”

It’s dark outside the windows this time around. Serena can’t distract herself with the countryside, only her reflex on the scraped glass to make her company. She’s pale and tired, bags under her eyes. Then the red and white lights of the motorway catch her gaze. Bernie must be there, one of those cars. They should have always stayed like these, two parallel trajectories that never touch. She’s not sad yet, there’s still Bernie’s scent on her coat, she can pretend a little while longer. After that, of all the things that Bernie has awoken in her, self preservation is the one Serena swears she’ll keep hanging on to.

Chapter Text

When Bernie parks her car in the driveway it’s almost midnight. She stays in the car with the engine off, hands tight on the wheel waiting for the guilt, the sadness, anything really, to wash over her. But when the dashboard lights go out she’s still surprisingly calm, sitting in front of her house feeling nothing at all a part from a little stiff in her lower back for the long drive. She straightens her shoulders, shakes her head and grabs the handle. Her street is always quiet at night, her suitcase and black boots on the gravel are the only sounds.
She leaves her keys on the small table in the hallway. There’s a little note in an ineligible handwriting. She takes her coat off and walks to the kitchen as the note asked. There’s a blue placemat with a spoon, a glass of red wine and a small plate with two slices of toasted bread. Another post-it on the microwave reads ’90 seconds’. She turns it on and waits leaning on the counter. She’s not really hungry but it’s hot and nice, so she breaks up some of the bread and eats the soup.
She’ll carry the suitcase upstairs tomorrow, for now she climbs the stairs in silence. She pushes her room’s door open and a sleepy voice welcomes her. “Hi, Bern. Did you see the soup?”
“Yeah, thanks.”
Marcus turns the bed lamp on and squeezes his eyes. “I’m sorry I didn’t wait up. They called me back at the hospital at four this morning. I’m beat.”
Bernie smiles sitting on the bed. “Don’t worry, I’m quite tired too.” She takes off her boots while Marcus brushes his fingers on her back. She holds her breath but it doesn’t feel any different. Not even when he touches the small patch of bare skin under her sweater.
“Did you win?” He asks taking his hand away.
“Win? Oh the conference, no. But apparently I came a very close second.”
“Sorry love, you must be gutted.”
Bernie turns to him, trying to hide the relief that she can manage this mess so easily. “You’d be more convincing if you weren’t laughing.” She admonishes him before going to the bathroom.
“Alright, sorry. How was it anyway?”
“Ok. Boring, mostly.” Bernie keeps talking through the open door. “Professor Ramsey was there. He asked about you, said to say hello.”
“How old is he now? Is he still going to conferences?”
“He looked perfectly fine to me.” Bernie mumbles with her brush teeth in her mouth.
“Should I be jealous?”
Bernie comes out of the bathroom wearing a faded green pajamas. “I did have a crush on him back then.” She teases him.
“And now?”
“That train is long gone. I choose the young idiot in chemistry class.” Bernie sits on the bed and squeezes some hand cream on her palm.

“About that…” He opens the drawer of his bedside table. “The jewelers called and I picked your ring up.” Marcus slides on the bed behind her and opens the little box. “Do you like it?”
Bernie frowns. “Well, considering I’ve been wearing this wedding band for decades…” She hasn’t understand all the fuss Marcus has been making about the ring for weeks. But she can tell it’s important to him so she tries. “It’s very… shiny? A lot more the before?”
“They cleaned it, Bern. And put the incision inside. Don’t you want to take a look?”
“I do but I have cream all over my hands, I don’t want to ruin it. Do you mind terribly if I wear it tomorrow?”
“Of course not.” He says but Bernie knows she’s given the wrong answer.
“Let’s sleep, ok? It’s late.”
“Alright.” He brushes her arm and turns on the other side. “Goodnight.”
Bernie takes the little blue box he left next to her and leaves it on her bed table. “Goodnight, Se…” Bernie freezes.
Marcus is fumbling with the covers. When he’s finally set up he yawns. “Bern? What are you waiting for?”
His calm voice shakes Bernie out of her shock. “Sorry, turn off the light. I have to check something in my bag.”
“Ok, hurry up.” He mumbles already halfway asleep.
Bernie stands up and walks slowly out of the room. She picks up the pace on the corridor and jogs down the stairs. She runs through the furniture of the living room and when she gets in the kitchen she locks herself inside just before falling on her hands and knees. She can’t fill her lungs, can’t breathe. Her skin is cold and sweaty, needles and pins in her fingers. She pulls at the collar of her pajamas until the first button unfasten. It’s not the first time this happens to her, but the last time was more than thirty years ago. Her mother was there, uncharacteristically affectionate and patient. Then a look of disappointment for Bernie’s weakness when it was over. Marcus would just help her, he would calm her. He wouldn’t ask too many questions because he knows her, he trusts her. But he’s not here, she can’t scream and the only thing her mind can conjure to soothe her is Serena holding her, touching her. If she could breathe she would breathe Serena’s scent. She can’t call Marcus because who knows what she could tell him right now. She’s got to get a grip on herself, push Serena far, far away and go on with her life like it never happened. Like one of those dreams she’s always had, those she never talk about, not even with herself.
But this wasn’t a dream, Serena was real and warm and so much better than any of her dreams. Does this lessen the gravity of her actions? Would Marcus understand that Bernie didn’t stand a chance when Serena grabbed her arm in the elevator that first night? That after the first kiss there was no going back? But she’ll be good now, she promises to herself. She loves Marcus and her children, she won’t hurt them. She put an end to this foolishness. She’ll be good.
Bernie slides on the cold floor and turns on her back to look up to the ceiling. She still has troubles breathing but it’s better now. Everything will be better from now on.

The next day she wakes up tired but ready to start the two weeks period of shadowing the retiring Head of AAU at St. James. Marcus offered to share the car since they were going to work at the same hospital but she declined, it was just unpractical with their hours. And they did give her a parking lot.
Mr. Platt was a completely asshole. It took Bernie less than five minutes to use all the second chances she was willing to give him. A sexist pig who’s medical knowledge was still stuck in the seventies. The only consolation was that he had settled the bar so low, both humanly and professionally, that it was almost impossible for Bernie to screw up this new job. It’s a small consolation and she finds his company unbearable. He doesn’t even let her scrub in. What he does repeatedly instead is making her listen to his saucy comments on every female nurse, patient or relative they meet in the ward. After lunch she has hit her limit and starts talking back to him. The only reason they’re able to avoid a physical fight is that Mr. Platt’s hearing is not as it used to be and he’s too proud to ask Bernie to speak up. So he nods and Bernie counts backwards from ten.
When she comes home she can’t even think properly. She’s beyond frustrated. And, oh, so bloody grateful to the man for sucking in all her attention from Serena. But now she is alone in her kitchen not sure what to do with herself. Usually, when she was home from assignment, she cooked but now she’s working here, like Marcus. They’ll have to find a new habit. Maybe who comes home first should make dinner. She quickly takes a note to never come home first again. Serena looks like someone who loves to cook. She’d probably offer. All house smelling good, a glass of red wine on the counter. Would she have the radio on? Swaying her hips to the music? Bernie would tell her about Mr. Platt and they’d plot his murder setting the table. Gory details and all.
She hears a car in the driveway and busies herself with plates and forks. It’s ok if she slips a little, it’s only been a day. She gives herself a week, after that all thoughts about Serena must be gone.
“How was your first day of school?” Marcus shouts from the hallway.
“Another gratuitous lesson about patriarchy.”
“What?” He comes in the kitchen and looks around. “Didn’t you cook?”
Bernie rolls her eyes. “As I was saying…”
“I sent you a text, there’s lasagna in the freezer. You just had to put it in the microwave. Never mind.” He does it himself and then kisses Bernie on the cheek.
“So, did the old man pinched your arse or something?”
“I don’t understand, if you all know how he is why is he still there?”
“Um… I don’t know.. maybe because he owns half of the bloody hospital? Didn’t Cameron teach you how to google a couple of Christmases ago?”
“He lost his patience halfway through. When is he coming?”
“Game night. Did you remember to buy Charlotte’s tea at that place in London?”
“Shit.” She never left the hotel. She forgot about her daughter. What kind of mother does that?
“Don’t worry, I’m sure she’ll forgive you by the time you’ll have to go to that conference again next year.”
“You could have reminded me.” She says angry at herself and at Marcus because he’s always so good with the kids, with all the little things she’ll never understand.
“If you had ever picked up your phone, I might have.”
“We talked everyday.” Bernie shots back right away. Then she realizes that’s not an argument she should be encouraging. “Anyway, she’ll hate me.”
Marcus rubs her arm, chuckling a little. “You’re taking it really hard, Bern.”
“It’s just… is it my fault if she’s always so resentful? Did I make her that way?”
“Probably. But you also made her brave and beautiful and independent. So you shouldn’t worry too much. Just remember the bloody tea next time.”

Mr. Platt had finally let Bernie do the wardround but he was clearly unsatisfied and asked her to follow him in his office. “I had a girlfriend called Berenice just as stubborn as you during the war.”
“War?”
“The Falkland.”
“I didn’t realized you served.”
“I didn’t.” He says annoyed. “I was just giving you a timeline you could grasp.”
Bernie snorts. After a week spent in the company of this man she just gave up, comforted by the notion that he was a dinosaur about to be extinct by a meteorite. Extinct by her to be more precise. “Ok, well. What did I do wrong this time?”
“You must understand that the AAU community is vicious. And highly competitive. I want this ward to keep thriving after I’m gone.”
“I’ll do my best.” Bernie sights and gets more comfortable on her chair. This is always the beginning of a long rant and since she’s still forbidden to step inside theatre there’s nowhere else she could hide. Mr. Platt doesn’t need an interlocutor, just an audience, so she lets her mind wander. It’s game night tonight. She’ll have to confess to Lottie her umpteenth misstep as a parent. That will be fun. Maybe she should buy her something else or tell her that the shop was closed. Maybe socks would do. She loves those stripy socks. She just should have remembered. But she did remembered, then Serena sat next to her and moaned. She found it funny and turned to her. She found it less funny when she saw how beautiful Serena was.
“Am I bothering you?” Mr. Platt interrupts her dangerous train of thoughts.
“No, why?”
“You have that dreamy face my niece has when she’s with her silly boyfriend.”
Bernie blushes. “No, I was just thinking about…” She frantically tries to remember what he was talking about. “The Falkland.”
He smirks knowingly. “Got yourself a boyfriend there?”
“Exactly how old do you think I am?”

When she comes home Marcus and the kids are in the kitchen cooking. The boardgames are already in the living room and she can smell roast beef while she takes off her coat.
“Hey guys.”
Cameron stands up to kiss her. “Hi mom, how’s the new job?”
“It’s.. interesting. School?”
“Never been better.”
She squeezes her eyes suspiciously. “Ha. Hi, Lottie.”
“Hi.” Charlotte says without even looking at her.
Marcus kisses her neck and whispers. “She knows.”
“Jesus, this tea thing will follow me to the grave.”
“Probably.” He kisses her lips and goes back to the stoves.
They eat at the kitchen table, Marcus and Cam have always been the more talkative and tonight is not different. Bernie tells them about Mr. Platt and Charlotte is horrified. “Why don’t you report him to HR?”
Bernie can’t say how helpful the creepy man is in holding this family together, so she mutters some excuses and goes back to silence.
When she comes to the living room with a tray and four cups of tea, they’re setting up Monopoly. Cam is making fun of Lottie’s latest crush and they end up fighting playfully over Marcus’ lap. It’s a moment of pure happiness. Bernie could leave right now and they wouldn’t even notice.
But she brings the tea, plays Monopoly, smiles and tries to be as motherly as she can. Like she sees on tv, like her mother never was. She can be a good wife and a good mother. She managed for so many years. She can’t let one lapse of judgement, she can’t let Serena, she can’t let this constant longing…
Bernie shakes her head and takes her cup. “It’s cold, someone else wants another round?”
They all say yes and Cam stands up to help her. “Are you ok mum?” he says when they’re alone in the kitchen.
“Yes, of course I am. Maybe tired… at work it’s all new.”
“Do you regret it? Being a civilian?”
He’s so worried and Bernie hurries to reassure him. “No, darling. I like it. It’s just different.”
He looks at her unsure but then smiles and refills the cups.

The last day of Mr. Platt there’s a small party at the nurse station. Everybody is quite happy he’s leaving except Bernie. It worries her being suddenly on her own. She’ll handle the job, she’ll try to make a smooth transition and drag this ward in the twenty-first century. Kicking and screaming if necessary. But now she has an office, with a phone and a door behind which she’s alone with too many thoughts.
“If you miss me I’m just a call away.”
She turns to Mr. Platt and smiles. “I know.”
“And if you get bored of that husband of yours…”
“I don’t see that happening any time soon.”
“I wasn’t proposing, you little minx. I just meant that all my researches and studies are online. You can read them, learn something and avoid that boring man at the same time. What I call a win-win. God knows what do you see in him, Berenice. Is he very good in bed?”
“And on that note, Mr. Platt, I wish you a very happy retirement. If you excuse me now, I want to check this thing online you mentioned right away.”
They shakes hands and Bernie walks to her office. She’ll have to change the desktop image as soon as possible but first she opens Google and access one of the most popular medical journals. In a few seconds all of Serena’s publications are listed in front of her eyes. She doesn’t know if she should feel guilty or just plain weird for being so excited.

She reads all of them in a couple of weeks, every time she has a few spare minutes or while she’s eating a sandwich. She starts taking notes, making lists of what she finds interesting and what she has doubts about. Serena’s writing is obviously scientific, there’s little room for fun but Bernie can hear her voice while she reads and knows where her humor hides. Serena is brilliant and even if Bernie already knew that, now her perception of Serena has shifted to become broader. They might have even been friends in different circumstances.
She keeps going back to the lists of questions while she sips her coffee. Maybe they can do this, being colleagues or friends. She hasn’t thought of Serena in the other way for… well not so long but Bernie wants to excel at her job and Serena seems to have all the secrets. She would be calling her for the greater good. She’s going to wait until tomorrow and if she won’t have changed her mind she’ll do it.

Chapter Text

It’s early morning and Serena walks through her ward resenting the bright lights. She drunk too much the night before, alone and melancholic. It’s been happening too often in the last month, this is not how she had imagined her fifties. The phone in her office is ringing and she courses under her breath. She’s not going to run, they can very well wait. When she picks up, she’s just too bothered to say anything more than a harsh “Yes?”
“Um… I was looking for Miss Campbell.”
Serena’s heart stops. “Speaking.”
“Oh, hi. It’s Bernie. Bernie Wolfe.”
“No shit.” Serena says before she can stop herself.
“What?”
“Sorry, my pen just fell. What can I do for you?”
“Well, um.. I’m glad you said that, actually. I have a few questions…”
“Questions?”
“Yes, I’ve been reading your articles and… Very interesting by the way… and I was wondering if you could clear a few doubts.”
Serena takes the phone away from her ear and stares at it. Than puts it back. “I’m not sure I understand your request.” Bernie mumbles something but Raf opens the door and pokes his head inside. “Hold on a second. Yes, Raf?”
“I think two patients are about to kill each others, should I…?”
“I’ll be right there.” Raf jogs away and Serena tries to find something to say to Bernie quickly. “Listen, I don’t have time now but…” She hears the sound of a metal tray hitting the floor. “I’ll be home at six, you could…”
“Come over?”
A man screams and Serena sees Fletch running past her windows. “I was going to say call. But whatever.” She gives Bernie her address and ends the call shouting. “Just call the damn security!”

Serena is late, almost half an hour. She tried not to think too much about Bernie’s strange call during the day. Not wanting to get her hopes high especially because she had no idea what to hope for. There was an undeniable excitement at the idea of seeing her again but she meant it when she told Bernie she didn’t want a relationship with her. Bernie was that kind of trouble Serena would have jumped carelessly into twenty years ago but not now.
When she gets out of her car fumbling with her bag and scarf, Bernie is there, leaning on her porch under the yellow light. She’s been meaning to change it for months but now that she sees Bernie all golden and soft she’s not so sure anymore.
“Sorry!” Serena shouts from the gate. “You know how it can get…”
“I do, don’t worry.”
They smile at each other shyly when Serena reaches her. “At least it wasn’t raining.” She finds the key and lets Bernie in. “Fancy some tea?”
“Yes, thank you.”
They hang their coat and Serena shows Bernie into the living room. “I’ll be back in a moment.”
She puts the kettle on and straightens her blouse. Bernie is in her house, she can’t say if it makes her happy or not because she can’t even convince herself that’s real. She silently walks in the hallway and peeks at Bernie. She’s sitting on the couch with her bag on her lap, nervously pushing her hair back from her face and something warm melts inside Serena. The kettle whistles and she goes back to the kitchen.
“Just milk, right?” Serena asks giving the cup to Bernie.
“Yes.”
They drink in silence and then speak at the same time. “So..”
“What…”
Serena laughs and gestures Bernie to go on.
“You told me once that I wasn’t good with the business side of this job. I’ll admit now that you might have been onto something.” Bernie chuckles and Serena smiles because whenever Bernie’s nervous she chooses her words carefully and unconsciously changes her usual speech patterns giving her uneasiness completely away. “More specifically, I hate it. I also want to fill this gap so I’ve been reading your articles. And I still hate it, sorry. But it was quite the lecture.”
“Thanks, but…”
“I was wondering if you could answer a few questions.”
“Ask away.”
“Oh, that’s great.” Bernie smiles with relief. “Just let me…” She pulls out a blue notebook from her bag and opens it at the first page. “Ok. In one of your…”
“Can I see that?” Serena holds her hand out and Bernie reluctantly gives her the notebook. She leafs through the pages. “Bernie, these must be a hundred questions.”
“I answered myself most of them.” Bernie blushes. “But if it’s too much I understand…”
“No, no. It’s ok.” Serena gives the notebook back and sits more comfortably. “I guess I just underestimate your thirst for knowledge.”

Serena can’t deny a small disappointment. Of all the directions she had imagined this meeting could go, an actual lecture in business management was quite low on her list. She just flattered herself thinking that Bernie had made up a silly excuse to see her again. Instead Bernie was deadly serious. It must have taken her weeks to come up with all those questions. Serena can tell how boring Bernie finds the subject with all the yawns she tries to hide. But she’s focused and takes little notes. That’s endearing, probably the most endearing thing Serena has ever seen. After awhile it stops being a lecture and becomes a conversation. Bernie might not have gone to Harvard but it’s a fast learner and she knows Serena’s articles better than Serena herself. They lose track of the topic and Bernie tells her some of her latest surgeries. She’s not longer yawning and her eyes sparkle a bit. Serena lets her digress and enjoys the excited tone in her voice. She missed her voice and all its beautiful shades. Serena laughs when Bernie talks about Mr. Platt and the more she laughs the more Bernie finds new stories about him, like she doesn’t want Serena to ever stop laughing. In the end they’re both flushed and Serena’s hand is on Bernie’s knee. Bernie gets coy all of a sudden. “It’s getting late, I’m sure you have other things to do.”
“You can…” Serena stops when Bernie stands up.
“It’s been a long day.” Bernie gives her a polite smiles. “You’ve been really helpful, thank you.” She kisses Serena’s cheek but it’s an afterthought and the delivery it’s a bit forceful. “I’ll show myself out. Goodnight.”
Serena is still standing in the living room not sure of what just happened when the door closes. Less than a minute later the bell rings and Serena walks to the door.
“What is it?”
“That was a terrible exit, I’m so sorry.” Bernie breaths out. “And I forgot my bag too.”
Serena smirks. “Quite embarrassing.”
“Indeed.” Bernie lets herself in and goes to pick up her bag next to the couch. When she comes back, Serena is leaning on the frame door of the living room. “I have to…”
“Run?”
Bernie nods but Serena can see in her eyes that whatever battle she was fighting, Bernie has irremediably lost it. So, she waits until Bernie lets her bag fall on the floor, leans in and kisses her. It’s a new kind of kiss, slow and deliberate. Every light nip, every flick of her tongue so clearly calculated that Serena wonders how many times Bernie must have thought of this moment. She feels Bernie’s fingers on her face, bending her just the way she wants her to, the index touching her lips so lightly but enough for Serena to surrender completely. This kiss is not sweet or passionate, Bernie is claiming her and Serena can’t say what scares her the most, giving herself so easily or knowing how unaware Bernie is of her request.
When the kiss ends Serena searches her eyes hoping to find something different but Bernie is just breathless and surprised. Serena steps back.
“What did I do?” Bernie whispers confused by Serena’s reaction.
“Nothing. Come here.”
When Bernie does, Serena kisses her, sloppy and frantic to erase the kiss before, forget all about it. But what it was meant to be bad and diminishing turns quickly into something else entirely. Serena pushes Bernie towards the stairs, they fall on the first steps but Serena can’t stop now. She unfastens Bernie’s jeans and pulls them down. “You’re so wet. Do you want me inside already?”
Bernie nods and tries to catch Serena’s mouth again.
But Serena turns away. She slides her finger down to her entrance and then trails up again. “Why did you came here? For your questions or for this?”
Bernie licks her lips. “I don’t know.”
“I think you do.” Serena leans on her and nips at her neck. “I think that reading my articles was your kind of foreplay. Did it turn you on? Did you imagined me writing them? Where I was, what I was wearing? Did you hear my voice in your head?”
Bernie moans and buckles her hips as much as lying uncomfortably on the steps lets her.
“What else did my voice tell you? What did you want to hear, Bernie? How much I missed you? Or how much I wanted to fuck you?” Serena thrusts her fingers inside and Bernie’s head falls back. “Look at me, tell me.”
“I didn’t… I just remembered little details. Everything. The way this feels.” Her voice is broken but there’s sweetness in it and longing. Serena falters and Bernie whines. “No, please, don’t stop.”
Serena adds another finger and Bernie closes her eyes. How beautiful she is, it’s impossible to forget even if Serena tried so hard. And when Bernie is flushed and vulnerable like she is now, it’s almost painful. As painful as almost having someone but never quite get them.

“You’ll be sore tomorrow.” Serena leans on her elbow and watches Bernie’s breathing slowing down.
“Um?”
“The steps.” Serena clarifies.
“Probably.”
Serena looks at her hand still wet, at the stairs, her hallway with her green umbrella and red rubber boots. Then back to Bernie half naked and disheveled. “You should go now.”
“I… Yes, of course.” Bernie disentangles herself and manages to get up. “Can I use the bathroom?”
“It’s the first door upstairs.”
Bernie jogs on the stairs with her jeans up but still unfastened.

When Bernie comes down, Serena is still sitting on the steps and she stops in front of her. “I really wanted to ask you those questions. I didn’t plan… I tried not to…”
Bernie sighs at loss of words and Serena rubs her calf. “I know.” She takes Bernie’s hand and pulls her down next to her. “We didn’t get over all of them, you should come back.”
“Really?” Bernie says surprised. “But you…”
“I wasn’t angry, just overwhelmed.” Serena smirks. “It’s something you always do to me. Quite annoying if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I don’t. And you do the same to me.”
Serena leans her head on Bernie’s shoulder. “It appears we are in a bit of a pickle here.”
Bernie snorts. “And you just asked me to come back again.”
“You absolutely shouldn’t.”
“Thursday in two weeks?”
“Perfect.” Serena pats her knee and stands up. She holds her hand to Bernie to pull her up and they find each other very close.
“Perfect.” Bernie whispers on Serena’s lips before kissing her. “Are you sure there’s nothing I can do before leaving?”
“I can manage the same way I’ve been doing this last month, by myself.” Serena means it as a joke but Bernie’s eyes darken and her fingers dig in Serena’s hips so deep it hurts. “Some other time, maybe…” Serena says enjoying this little advantage.
“And now?”
“What do you want?”
Bernie smiles and shrugs. “Nothing much, I’m quite the simple girl.”
“Are you? I think you have depths worth exploring.” Serena is sure about it, then Bernie blushes lightly and she doesn’t insist. “But not now. Lets keep it simple.”
Bernie relaxes. “I can do that.” She pushes Serena into the living room, kissing her, pulling at her clothes until Serena loses everything except her open blouse. Bernie sits on the couch and makes Serena straddle her.
“This is it?” Serena laughs. “You had a month to prepare and this is what you came up with?”
Bernie frowns, suddenly serious. “I think you’re missing the point.”
“Which is?”
Bernie brushes her inner thighs with both hands until Serena buckles slightly her hips. “Touching you again has been my only thought.” She moves one fingers up until she find warm and wet. “I’m sorry if it’s not enough for you.” She slides her fingers around Serena’s clit. “But it was shattering to me.”
Serena stares at her but Bernie keeps her eyes low. “The way I want you, I can’t think about it or I’d be paralyzed.” Bernie breathes out and tilts her head up. “Do you understand?”
It’s almost a plea and so much more than Serena has ever asked her. “I understand.”
Bernie pushes her fingers inside Serena. “Do you?”
“I do.” Serena gasps.
“Good.” Bernie composes herself and smiles. “Can we shag now?”
Serena laughs. “Please yes, Miss Wolfe. Do your worst.”

Chapter Text

Serena’s gate shuts behind Bernie and a chilly wind wraps around her body. She walks to her car digging her hands in her pocket, next to her keys and phone there’s a small metal band. She pulls out her wedding ring and wears it. It’s cold and hard on her finger, so she stretches her hand until she gets used to it again, forgets it again.
There’s a silly love song on the radio and she sings along quietly, mistaking most of the lyrics. Marcus would have made fun of her. Probably Serena too. People always find her relationship with music hilarious. She wants to get home before Marcus and take a shower, put all her clothes in the laundry and… Is she already so good at this? The affair, the sneaking, the not getting caught? Where’s the overwhelming guilt? The excruciating desire to come clean? After the panic attack that first night, her guilt has been lingering at best, coming and going in light waves. Rationally, she knows that the right thing to do is being faithful, being a good wife. But it’s not so black and white anymore. There’s wrong in her marriage and right in her affair.
How she feels with Serena, she never felt with anyone. Bernie hasn’t had many boyfriends before Marcus and she’s never been unfaithful before, so it might only be inexperience. But she doesn’t think so. The way she gives herself to Serena, freely and willingly and happily, it never occurred to her it can be like this between two people. She always thought it was a request she could decide when satisfy or not, that that was the rule. It must be special what Serena and her create together, a little out of this world too.
She knows she must end it and go back to her life but not just yet. Just a little more for all the years she’ll have to do without.
She removes all her clothes and turns the washer on. She jogs, cold and naked, up to her bathroom and starts the shower. The steam fills the room and she steps inside. She’ll see Serena next Thursday. There are Christmas and New Year in between. She’ll have to see a lot of people she doesn’t care to see and do all those family stuff that she’s just not good at. But she’ll make an extra effort this time because then she’s got to see Serena. Maybe it’s a bit twisted seeing her lover as a reward for her good behavior with her family. She wishes she had a friend to talk to about this mess in her head, she wishes Serena was that friend.
“Love?” Marcus waltzes in the bathroom making her startle.
“Hi, you came back early.”
“There was a problem with one of the theaters and my last surgery was postponed. My mom called.”
“About what?” Bernie is rinsing the conditioner from her hair.
“When we were thinking to get there tomorrow.” He’s opening and closing drawers and Bernie knows he’s already packing, hopefully her things too.
“I have half shift.”
“Why didn’t you ask for the whole day?”
Bernie sighs and lets the warm water fell on her neck. “We always leave in the afternoon.”
“Because we always had to wait for you and the weird army rituals you had to attend.”
Bernie turns off the shower and slides the glass door. “Working on the twenty-third of December, I must be out of control.”
“Um.” Marcus ogles her in appreciation. “I think I can find it in me to forgive you.”
“While you’re at it, can you pass me the bathrobe?”
He holds it open for her, Bernie steps out of the shower and turns to wear it.
“Oh God, what have you done?”
Bernie freezes. “What do you mean?”
“Your back, there are red lines, bruises.”
“Oh, that. My phone was ringing, I went down the stairs and fell. I didn’t realize there were going to be signs, I must have hit the steps.” Bernie sounds so convincing, she almost believes it herself.
“I’ll put some ibuprofen gel on it.”
The idea of Marcus taking care of Serena’s bruises makes her stomach twitch. “No, don’t worry about it, it doesn’t even hurt.”
He takes the gel from a drawer and shoves it on Bernie’s hand. “You can’t even let me touch you for this, can you?”
He slams the door on his way out.

Marcus and the kids are out to buy some wood for the fireplace and Bernie is helping Marcus’ mother, Celia, in the kitchen. “You look different.”
“It’s the hair, I stopped straighten them.” Bernie says chopping vegetables.
“Did you peel them first? The carrots.”
“No. Was I supposed to?”
“They’re just prettier peeled, less of a mess.”
Bernie stares at the cutting board with just half a carrot left. “Oh.”
“But who cares, right?” The old woman chuckles and Bernie smiles. She always liked Celia, so open and easy to talk to. Not passive-aggressive like her son.
“But you do look different. More alive perhaps?”
Bernie frowns, not sure where this conversation is heading. “I wasn’t dead before.”
Celia nods and busies herself at the stove. “It must be the new job.”
“What else?” Bernie sees the car pulling in the driveway from the window. “They’re here, I’m going to help them with the wood.”
“No, they’ll manage. Marcus told me you hurt your back. The stairs, right?”
“Yes, a moment of distraction.”
“It happens. What matters is that it doesn’t happen again.”
There’s something in Celia’s eyes that sends chills down Bernie’s back. “I’m going to see what’s holding them.”
When Marcus gets inside Bernie kisses him in an urgency to show that everything is alright, more than. When she turns around, Celia is watching them worriedly from the kitchen.
She tries to calm down, telling herself that Celia can’t know anything. But maybe Bernie’s only lucky that Marcus is so oblivious because her affair is just there for anybody to see. In Bernie’s eyes, literally on her skin. She sits next to Marcus watching Cam light the fire. Leans her head on her husband’s shoulder wondering why she can’t find a comfortable position but she stays anyway. She kisses him again before leaving when Lottie asks her to help setting the table. At dinner she puts smashed potatoes in his plate and when a bit falls she realizes she’s never done that, it’s always the other way around. She picks the potato from his lap and stands up to throw it away. Marcus corners her in the small hallway on her way back to the dining room. “What’s this about?”
She’s still looking at small pieces of potato on her fingers, regretting not to have washed her hand. “I don’t…”
“Is this because of what I told you yesterday in the bathroom? If you don’t want to sleep with me I can’t make you want to. It’ll happen when it’ll happen. But please be normal and stop sending mixed signals. In front of my mother, nonetheless.”
He’s clearly very annoyed at her but Bernie is just being nice, he should have had the opposite reaction. “I just held your hand and kissed you twice on the lips, I’m hardly throwing myself at you.”
“True. Then think how coldly you normally behave for having all of us freaked out after just a basic display of affection.”
“Am I such a terrible wife?” This is easy, the small, whispered fights that never really explode. Trying to guilt one other into giving up first. There was a time she was glad they’d never scream, never lose control. Now she thinks this is just as ugly.
“Of course not. I love you Bern, it’s just… every once in a while it would be nice feeling wanted.”
“Oh.” Bernie finally understands him. Shares with him the consuming need of being craved. Just not by Marcus. “Ok.”
Marcus shakes his head. “Let’s finish dinner, Bern.”

It’s New Year’s Eve and they are spending it with five other couples. All Marcus’ university buddies and their wives. They’re Bernie’s friends too, after all those years they all care about each other but Bernie suspects it’s more out of habit than because they share anything in common with her. When the women leave to see how the bedroom has been refurbished, Bernie stays on the couch nursing her whisky, distractedly listening to the husbands chatting.
“Why Ross is not here?” Marcus is asking.
“Oh you don’t know?” Jonathan, the man next to him, is more than happy to gossip. “Lisa left him for a waitress. He wants to keep it hush hush, but the ladies are not exactly discreet. I saw them holding hands…”
“A waitress?”
“Yeah! How rare is it? A middle aged woman, who recently married a rich man, like Ross, and then throw it all away for a waitress?”
“You really are a classist prick, Jonathan.” Marcus tells him. “There are other factors…”
“Yes, like was she a lesbian all along? Did she fake it every time? Poor bastard.”
And while Marcus shakes his head and everybody laughs, Bernie wants to die. She’s holding her glass so tight it can break any moment. Is this what her life can be reduced to? An offensive joke at a party? Marcus is looking at her, sorry for his friend’s behavior, a little surprised that Bernie hadn’t said anything to shut him off. But she just wants to disappear, not let them see her fear.
She’s seen Lisa a couple of times and they didn’t bond much but a month ago she would have defended her. Now she thinks better Lisa than me and she’s so ashamed of herself. If they knew, they’d make fun of her, of Marcus, of her children. Her family would never forgive her. So she stays still, barely breathing and lets them feast on Lisa and Ross.
“What are you all laughing about?” The hostess shouts coming back with the other women.
“Lisa broadening her horizons in the bedroom.”
“Oh you idiots. I met her partner. They’re lovely together and you’re all just scared that we’ll all come to the same conclusion. That man are useless. Right, ladies?”
Bernie’s never been a girl’s girls but when all those women starts to cheer she wishes she was.

When it’s almost midnight they stand up from the couches, Jonathan pours champagne in everybody’s flute and they begin the countdown. Bernie told Marcus she would be driving home so he’s been drinking freely all night and he’s quite tipsy when the New Year arrives. He kisses Bernie and when Bernie steps back he holds her tight and kisses her deeply. She kisses him too because she doesn’t want to start the year with a fight but when she hears whistling she cut him short. The men pat Marcus’ shoulder congratulating him and it bothers Bernie to have her sex life exposed again. But what could she say? That they hadn’t slept together in months but there’s a woman a few miles from here that takes Bernie’s breath away every time they touch? So she chose to stay silent again but she doesn’t like this new Bernie that in order to hide her dirty secrets has to put up with all the assholes in the room.

Marcus stumbles behind her when she opens the door. She tries to take off her coat but Marcus hugs her from behind. “Happy New Year, Bern.”
“Happy New Year, Marcus.”
They stay like that for a moment until Bernie tries to slip away. Marcus makes her turn to him and kisses her neck. Bernie looks up, right at the light on the ceiling and thinks of Lisa. Did she feel nothing when Ross kissed her? They hadn’t been married long, was the waitress a complete surprise? Is it ever, really? Maybe they fell in love. Bernie has never fallen in love with a woman. Even with Marcus she harbors some doubts. She’s had a few crushes and Serena is one of them, maybe a little stronger. Maybe they just met a few decades too late.
Marcus is fumbling with her breast, pinching hard way too soon. How is it possible that he still hasn’t understand how to touch her when it took Serena all of ten seconds. Bernie’s always thought there was something wrong in her, but her body works perfectly under Serena’s hands. No hitches, no bumps. She even loves that Serena speaks so much in bed and that’s one of the many things she would have never guessed about herself before meeting Serena. Marcus is trying to turn her on but she can’t even be sure because it’s just a sequence of clumsy moves. And she hates him for it, hates him for not being as good as Serena, for not making her life easier, for always making her feel broken. She pushes him away.
“You’ve drunk too much, let’s go to sleep.”
He’s going to be mad tomorrow but she’ll find an excuse to spend the day at the hospital and then the holidays will be finally over. She survived them and on Thursday she’ll get her reward.

Chapter Text

Serena walks around her ward, on the street, at the market looking at women. She’s never done that and it makes her feel a bit like a dirty old man but she keeps doing it trying to find one that could spark if not desire at least the possibility of it. Bernie can’t be the only one, can she? And Serena does finds women beautiful, the swell of a hip, a full breast, the way they touch things, so different from men’s. Yet, it always remains just an aesthetic form of pleasure. She doesn’t know who to ask for advices and during the New Year’s party at Albie's, after one too many glasses of Shiraz, she thinks that maybe Raf would understand. “Do you ever want to kiss Fletch?”
He gets wide eyed and laughs. “No, no I don’t. But sometimes I think he might be my soulmate, you know? And we could be a very happy family. I just don’t want to sleep with him.”
“It’s…” Serena frowns. “Sad.”
“Yes, I guess it is.”
“Maybe sex it’s overrated.” They look at each other and then burst into a loud laughter. When it’s over they’re flushed and teary. “No, but seriously.”
“What?”
Serena finishes her wine up and makes the glass clang when she puts it on the counter. “I slept with a woman and it was so good, Raf, I don’t want to say the best I ever had because then what would have been my life until now? But I think it might be.” Raf looks at her open mouthed and a little dumb. Serena sighs. “Please tell me you won’t remember this conversation tomorrow.”
“Serena, sorry, I’m just surprised. But it’s great that you’ve found someone, I’m really happy for you.”
“No, I…” And suddenly she’s ashamed of it, as if she isn’t enough for Bernie to be with her. “It was just that, sex.”
“Oh, ok. Do you want it to be more?”
“Do I? I don’t think it matters to anyone what I want.”
Fletch comes swaying between them. “I demand this dance, Miss Campbell!”
Serena puts her finger on her lips and Raf nods with a small smile before Fletch makes her swirl.

On Thursday Serena comes home at four. She showers and dresses with an orange blouse and black slacks. She goes to the kitchen and pours herself a glass of wine. Bernie hasn’t confirmed and Serena hasn’t called at her hospital. So she sips her wine and pours another glass. When the doorbell rings she’s almost all the way through the bottle. Bernie has a light pink coat over a black cashmere sweater with a crew neck and dark jeans. “You look very prim and proper today.”
“Thank you.” Bernie smirks. “You don’t.”
“Please, come in.”
Bernie takes off her coat and looks inside the kitchen. “You’ve been drinking without…” When she turns around Serena kisses her. “…me.”
“I don’t want to drink with you.”
“Then what?” Bernie smiles softly and pulls her closer. “You’re no use to me and my questions in this state.”
Serena holds Bernie’s head between her hands and kisses her until just kissing is not enough anymore. Serena steps back and looks at her. “I really like your clothes, a bit misleading though.” She leans against the wall and grabs Bernie’s jeans to get her closer. She brushes her lips on Bernie’s and whispers. “You’re not a good girl Bernie Wolfe, why do you dress like one?” Bernie blushes and Serena smirks. “Oh you like this, don’t you?” She sucks Bernie’s lower lips and then lets it go. “Why don’t you get on your knees and show me how good you are?” Bernie just stares at her and Serena thinks that maybe she has misunderstood and this is not a game Bernie enjoys. But then Bernie falls on her knees and licks her slacks right over her sex. She makes a show of it, taking her into her mouth, pressing her tongue flat and then trailing up, always looking in Serena’s eyes. And Serena is almost over the edge before Bernie even begins to open the first button.

After, Serena slides on the floor, limbs entangled with Bernie’s. They’re both breathing hard but Serena kisses her, tastes herself. “You like it when I tell you what to do, do you? It’s not just in my head.” Bernie looks down and Serena takes her chin. “It’s ok if you do. There’s nothing wrong about it.”
“I know. It’s just new. We shouldn’t talk about it.”
“Why not?”
“I just don’t talk about this things.” Bernie stands up.
“What things? Sex? How old are you?” Serena grabs Bernie’s offered hand to be pulled up and adjust her clothes.
“Where’s the bedroom?”
“Up and on the left.” They take the stairs and Serena struggles to keep up with Bernie. “If we don’t talk about it how the hell would I know the boundaries?” Bernie disappears in the bedroom and Serena shouts in frustration. “Should just I go on blindly waiting from a sign from God?”
“There aren’t any.” Bernie is next to the door and Serena almost stumbles into her. “There are no boundaries I can think of. Happy?”
Serena brushes her arm and feels how tense she is, how it costs to Bernie to say that. “Happy? If it makes you so uneasy, how could I be happy about it?”
Bernie rubs her face and takes a deep breath. “Just don’t leave marks, I’m surrounded by noisy people all day.”
“Ok.” Serena wonders if Bernie has ever talked about sex in her life and she’s a little saddened at the thought that she might never had. “Don’t you ask me about my boundaries?”
“Yes, sure.”
Serena steps into her personal space and catches her gaze. “You can do anything to me.” She smiles until Bernie smiles back, finally relaxed. “Happy?”
“I don’t know if I can take your word for it, Miss Campbell.” Bernie flicks open the first button of Serena’s blouse. “Maybe I should make you prove your statement.”
“As a scientist, I completely understand.”

Serena stirs and turns to her bed table, the bottle of water is empty and she grunts.
“Thirsty?” Bernie moves behind her and kisses her shoulder.
“Yes but I can wait.”
“I’ll go.” Bernie rolls off the bed and stops on the door. “Where can I find another?”
“In the kitchen, under the sink.” Serena watches her naked lover disappear in the hallway and hopes she’ll stay a little longer.
When Bernie comes back she’s holding the bottle in one hand and her notebook in the other.
“Questions time!” Serena jokes.
Bernie crawls on the bed. “Is it ok?”
“Of course it is.” Serena takes the bottle and drinks. “How’s work by the way?”
“Fine. It’s just that…” Bernie covers her legs with the duvet and leans on the bedpost. “They don’t seem to care much about my skills and are very concerned about my bedside manners. It feels like school all over again. I see popular girls, I see how easier everything is for them, I just can’t make myself be one without gagging.”
“I’m a popular girl. Always been.” Serena says cheerfully and Bernie frowns. “Maybe the problem is that you think that you have to pretend to care to fit in. That they’re all pretending to be nice and that sickens you. Perhaps a lot do, but most care about patients, about being friendly with their coworkers.”
“What should I do? Hold hands and bake biscuits?”
“I don’t think anyone expects that. Caring doesn’t come natural to you, it’s ok, everybody’s different. But what I say to my F1s is to listen to the patient, making them human. If it works for those incompetent blood-thirsty little sadists, I’m sure it can work for you too.” Serena laughs and takes another sips of water.
Bernie scratches the duvet between them. “Does it bother you?”
“What?”
“That caring doesn’t come natural to me.” Bernie leafs through her notebook trying to sound casual. “That I’m not warm and kind like you. That I’m cold.”
“I think people are a whole, I can’t pick some pieces and leave others. And even if I could… this is an important part of you, I don’t know who you’d be without it, and I like you very much as you are.”
Serena sees Bernie hide a smile. “But I still should listen to unreliable people with no medical knowledge whatsoever who try to diagnose themselves on Google.”
“Yes, I’m sure the patients will appreciate your epical efforts.”
“Ok.” Bernie sits upright and distances the notebook enough to read what’s on it without glasses. “Just two questions today because I can resist no more than ten minutes before snogging you.”

When Serena joins her in the kitchen, Bernie is toying with a tangerine on the table. “May I?”
“If you’re hungry I can…”
“No, thank you. It just look delicious.”
“It is.” Serena sits and opens the agenda on her tablet. “Wednesday?”
Bernie checks on her calendar and begins peeling the tangerine. “I’ll be in theatre all afternoon. Friday?”
“Board meeting. I have Thursday morning free…”
“Um… I could…” She puts half tangerine in her mouths and chews slowly. “Yes, but I have to be at the hospital at noon.”
Serena grabs the other half and divides it in slices earning a weird look from Bernie. “You can come early, if you want. I’ll have coffee.”
Bernie types something on her phone and smiles. “Settled then.” She puts down her phone and picks up all the slices.
“What did you just write?”
“What do you mean?” Bernie eats the rest of the tangerine in one mouthful.
“On your phone. Do you have a code for me? Did you use my name?”
“Why?” Bernie swallows and cleans her hands on her jeans.
Serena puts away the napkin she was about to offer. “I was just wondering because my phone calendar syncs with my hospital computer and a few consultants and F2s can access it to check where I am if they need me.”
“Oh, shit.” Bernie fumbles with her phone.
“Yes, I thought so.” Serena tries not to laugh. “But just out of curiosity what did you write?”
“Nothing.” Bernie stands up and throws the peels away. “I have to go now.”
Serena follows her. “Come on, tell me.”
Bernie sighs wearing her coat. “It was an emoji.”
“A cute one or a dirty one?”
“There are not such things as dirty emojis.”
“Yes, like… um.. the aubergine!” Serena says proudly to even have this information.
“The… oh.” Bernie puts her bag on her shoulder. “Serena, why on earth would I use an aubergine?”
“Then which one?”
Bernie kisses her softly. “I’ll tell you next week.” And with that she was out of the door.

Chapter Text

On Thursday Bernie wakes up in Charlotte’s room. It’s not the first time since the new year began that, after tossing and turning for awhile, Marcus asks her not very politely to find another accommodation for the night. It’s six o’clock and she has to choose between sneaking back in her room and grab some clothes in the dark or waiting a couple of hours for Marcus to leave. She’s never been very good at waiting.
There’s little people around so it takes less than ten minutes to get to Serena’s house. Bernie walks to a coffee shop nearby that’s just opening up and convinces the owner to give her a pan au chocolate and a croissant.
She’s so sure that Serena will be already up that when she sees her wearing a crumpled red satin pajama and a very stern face Bernie almost gasps. “Is it too early?”
“For a booty call? I don’t know, Bernie. Maybe the kids do it at dawn these days but I’m still old-fashioned.”
“I can come back later.”
“Don’t be silly.” Serena lets her inside and snatches the paper bag. “What’s this?” She smells inside and smiles. “You’re buying your way into my bed. I like it.”
“Why don’t you go upstairs and rest, I can make some coffee.”
“Sounds great.” Serena kisses her cheek and leaves.
Bernie looks around the kitchen hoping to find the coffee somewhere visible but it quickly becomes obvious that Serena has a place for everything and doesn’t like stuff lying around. So she starts her search from the cupboard closest to the coffeemaker and moves clockwise. What she discovers is Serena’s love for spices, old recipes books in someone else's handwriting and a couple new ones in Serena’s, an old cookie stamp with the name ‘Ellie’ on it, an exotic collection of plastic stoppers, a picture on the counter from the New Year’s party with two younger men hugging a smiling and tipsy Serena. When she finally finds the coffee, Bernie wishes she hadn’t see any of it. She wants for Serena to exist in her mind only as she is when they’re together, she doesn’t need to imagine her life. It just adds to the mess. She stares absently at the coffeemaker wondering if the people in Serena’s life would hate Bernie if they knew.
Serena is sleeping when Bernie arrives. She leaves a cup on both bedtables and takes off her shoes before gingerly lying down on the duvet. She doesn’t want to disturb Serena’s sleep, so she closes her eyes and after less than five minutes she’s sleeping as well.
As Bernie begins to wake up, Serena is kissing her neck and brushing her cheek with her thumb. “What time is it?”
“Half past eight.”
Bernie feels her breathing against her skin and shivers. “Is this a more appropriate hour?”
“I was about to find out.” Serena’s hand trails down on Bernie’s breast and squeezes it. “What do you think?”
“Still not completely awake, I’m afraid.” Berne smiles.
“Let’s try a more direct approach.” Serena pulls up Bernie’s green and white shirt and pops open her black jeans button. “Is this better?”
“Not yet. But I’m feeling more optimistic by the minute.”
Serena pulls the fly down and slides her hand in her knickers. “Oh yes, I can definitely feel you dripping optimism.”
Bernie laughs but Serena moves her finger and she moans arching her back.
It sparks a glint in Serena’s eyes. “How nice is it that I can control you just with the flick of a finger?”
Bernie stares at her for a moment, pondering the question. “Very.”
Serena smiles and kisses her. Bernie gets lost in it, feeling cherished and wanted.
“You’re gorgeous, Bernie. I could do this all day.” Serena ends the kiss nuzzling her nose and a life of morning kisses and hot coffees flashes in Bernie’s mind.
“Are you ok?” Serena is frowning and Bernie smiles.
“More than. I just…” But she can’t explain the pain for the loss of someone who’s still in front of her. “I’m just wondering if I’m too selfish in letting you do all…” Serena presses a little harder and Bernie groans. “It’s so good though.”
“It’s so good watching you.” Serena speeds up her pace and Bernie’s hips try to match it.
“Is it? Is that enough?”
Serena looks into her eyes but doesn’t answer, her lips a tight line as if she’s regretting something and Bernie pulls her down, kisses her hard, kisses her till Serena is happy again. She feels the familiar tension building up in her body, the unbearable heat spreading from within, the growing strength in her fingers around Serena’s arms but when she comes there’s no sense of wholeness or relief. So, she takes her jeans off and pulls at Serena’s pajama until it’s on the floor. Then straddles her, aligning her sex with Serena’s. She buckles her hips and removes the rest of her clothes. Serena brushes her thighs and Bernie pushes her away. “Don’t. I want you to look at me.” She keeps moving, trying not to go too fast too soon. Serena swallows and clenches her fists. She’s watching her and Bernie feels beautiful and safe. “I want you to see what you do to me.”
Serena’s eyes burns on her skin and it’s intoxicating giving herself without the burden of shame and uneasiness, without the need of protecting herself, hiding, always hiding, herself. And for a moment she imagines an entire life like this and her whole body feels suddenly lighter. “Only with you.” She murmurs. “Only with you.” Her eyelids are heavy, her breathing shallow. She’s close and tries to resist a little more but then she locks eyes with Serena’s, so dark, so full of wonder and desire that Bernie lets it go with a scream.
When Serena pulls the cover over her, Bernie realizes she’s shivering. “I’m not cold.”
“I know.” Serena says brushing away blond locks stuck on Bernie’s face. She keeps her between her arms until Bernie falls asleep again.

Bernie begins to be a regular presence in Serena’s house. They’re not even pretending to make it a weekly thing, or a couple of times in a month thing. They just see each other whenever they can. Bernie checks Marcus calendar before agreeing for a date but Marcus works as much as her and it’s not Head of his department so his schedule is not as flexible as Bernie’s. She always finds wine or coffee when she arrives to Serena’s place, and fresh tangerines in the fruit bowl. She’s familiar with everything in the kitchen now, knows where to find clean towels and throw away the dirty ones. She even helped Serena to rearrange the furniture in her living room one afternoon and then shagged her on the armchair just to push away the familiarity of it all. There’s a toothbrush in a drawer that Bernie uses sometimes. But she doesn’t consider it hers because she’s never had and never will have a purple toothbrush. There are times that this affair feels just like a marriage but with sex in it.
They always find a way to see each other but Bernie has to juggle between Serena, her job, her husband, her children and the sum of their expectations. They each claim a piece of her and on some days it feels like they’re tearing her flesh apart.
Yet, when Serena cancels last minute Bernie doesn’t know what to do with these extra two hours, doesn’t want to do anything else with them. She’s already told an excuse to Marcus so she walks aimlessly for the streets of Holby and looks at shop windows, floating in a bubble in which no one knows where she is, as if she’s slipped in a space-time pocket.
When she gets home Marcus is in kitchen chopping red and green peppers. “Just in time, love. Give me the paprika.”
Bernie looks unsure between two cupboards. “Where is it?”
“In your purse, I hope.”
“Why should…” Then she remembers this morning when he was very excited about trying a new recipe and said something about paprika but she was thinking how she could arrange her surgeries to be out of the hospital in time to see Serena. “Yes, sorry. The shop was closed.”
“What shop?”
“The one next Miss Lawrence.” She’s Bernie’s godmother, Marcus and she always hated each other.
“I thought you saw Miss Lawrence two days ago.”
Bernie tries frantically to remember where she told him she was going this evening then, but her mind goes blank. “She didn’t feel well again and asked me to go back.”
He nods and throws the pepperoni in the pan. “Old ladies, right?”
“Yeah…”
He opens the fridge, takes the chopped chicken and turns around, just a few inches from Bernie’s face. “What about your physiotherapy?”
Physiotherapy, that’s what she told him. “I did that too.”
“Busy bee, are you? All in less than ninety minutes. You must have flied.”
Bernie shrugs, trying to keep her gaze steady on him. “I managed.”
He nods again then goes back to the stove. “Except for the paprika.”
Marcus keeps glaring at her all dinner, making sure she eats all the paprika chicken with no paprika. Bernie can’t afford to fell into a routine with Serena. She has to stay sharp, alert all the time from now on.

When they see each other again, they arrive at Serena’s house at the same time and Serena races her up the stairs. Bernie lets her win but then pins her down on the bed and shows her who’s the stronger between them. Serena pouts and then smiles and then buckles her hips telling Bernie to hurry up. They wrestles with their clothes and with each other until Bernie is laying on her stomach, arms still entangled in her sweater. “Your clothes are too tight, you’ll never be faster than me.” Serena smirks holding her down with her weight, a hand on the sweater to keep Bernie from freeing herself.
“I thought you liked my clothes.” Bernie tries to jerk away one last time and gives up.
“I do. Especially when you handcuff yourself with them.”
Bernie turns her head enough to look at her. “Ha.”
Serena doesn’t seem to mind the scolding glare and kisses her shoulder. “I had a dream last night…”
“Was I naked?”
Serena trails her hand up and down Bernie’s back. “No.”
“Was I good?”
“Very.” Serena pauses for other questions then takes a breath before starting again. “We were at a restaurant…”
“Which one?”
Serena slaps her arse. “Stop interrupting.”
Bernie smirks. “If I do, will you slap me again?”
Serena slaps her harder and Bernie gasps. “Like this?”
Bernie nods and hides her face on the duvet.
“Are you blushing?” Bernie doesn’t answer and Serena slaps her.
“Maybe.”
“I can’t hear you.” Serena’s hand hits her backside so hard that Bernie’s back arches.
“I said maybe.” Bernie hurries. “But I’m not blushing anymore.”
“If I touch you now, how wet would I find you?” Bernie groans and Serena hits her again. “Use your words, Bernie.”
“A lot. Really, really wet.”
Serena sighs and traces the dark pink shape of her hand on Bernie’s skin. “I think I should wait.”
“No, why?” Bernie’s voice is suddenly high-pitched.
“Just to see how red your ass can get before you beg me to stop.”

Turns out Bernie can stand a lot more pain and waiting than she could have ever anticipated. Marcus tried to slap her once and now, lying lazily on her stomach watching Serena sleep, she can tell she highly overreacted. He might not be the best lover but she didn’t help him to be one either. She’s probably been not so much herself. They should have learnt together, they should have talked more. She’s doing it now with Serena but even if she knows they’re getting better every time, they’ve been extraordinary from the very first day. And it makes things so much easier, focusing on the sex, being constantly intoxicated by it, so she can forget about anything else between them.
Serena opens slowly her eyes. “Are you ok?”
Bernie kisses her because that’s the best answer she can give. “Tell me your dream.”
“It was silly. Just me and you in a restaurant eating pasta and being naughty.”
“I want to hear.”
Serena frowns. “No, you don’t. It was just you and I in the real world.”
“Oh.”
“Yes, well, I told you you didn’t want to hear.”
Bernie knows Serena hopes she’ll deny but she can’t. When Serena makes to move Bernie places a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t be sad.” It sounds childish and a little desperate even to Bernie.
“Does that ever work? Telling someone just not to be something? I always wondered.” Serena lays back down and looks at the ceiling.
Bernie’s chest clenches with the need to make Serena smile again. “Fair enough. I’ll show you a trick, then.” Bernie reaches for her coat on the floor and takes her lighter.
Serena glares at her suspiciously. “Will this trick kill the both of us?”
“Ha.” She opens the zippo. “Look.” Bernie snaps her fingers on it and it lightens. “Do you like it?”
“That’s it?” Bernie frowns and Serena takes pity on her. “No, it’s a very… very neat trick. I feel so much better already.”
“You’re making fun of me.”
“Of course I am.” Serena laughs and pats Bernie’s arm. “But don’t worry darling, I’m sure all the other ladies you seduced with it were genuinely impressed.”
“Other ladies?” Bernie smiles because maybe the trick was rubbish but her idiocy never fails to improve Serena’s mood.
“What do you mean?” Serena can’t stop laughing, that uncontrollable giggling that sometimes gets the best of her after being upset.
“What other ladies. You’re the first. And the last, too.” Bernie throws the lighter on her coat and stirs before turning curiously to Serena who’s just bursted in another fit of laughter. “What’s so funny?”
Serena cleans the tears from her eyes. “The first?”
“Yes.”
Serena’s smile fall all of a sudden. “I’m not.”
Bernie nods. She can tell she’s just done something wrong again but she’s not sure what.
“I’m not the first woman you ever slept with, Bernie.”
“I would know, Serena. You are the first.” She tries to remember what she can possibly has said to make Serena believe differently but comes up empty. “I didn’t lie about this.”
“I appreciate that you felt compelled to add ‘about this’.” Serena sits up, deep in thoughts. “It’s true that we never went into specifics but it was clear… Bernie I don’t know if my judgement was clouded because you came on to me…”
“I didn’t.”
“…or you got naked as soon as we met…”
“You did too.”
“…but you seemed pretty gay.”
Bernie grabs her underwear and puts it on. She hasn’t look at the watch but surly it’s time to leave. “I’ve been told before, in very coloured ways, but I’m not.”
“I’m not a drunk soldier calling you names in a pub, Bernie. I’m the woman you slept with on numerous occasions. It might have a different weight.”
Bernie picks her jeans and sweater from the floor and throws them on the bed. “Why? Why a stranger should know better than me?”
“And here we go again.” Serena sing-song the words. “I’m a stranger. I know nothing, I count for nothing. Yet, you always come back for more. How’s that? I must do wonders in bed. Oh, no wait! You’re not gay. So, please tell me, whatever other reason can you possibly have?”
“You have no right to tell me who I am. Knowing me for three month doesn’t give you that right. Spending time together doesn’t give you that right. Fucking me doesn’t give you that right.” Bernie breathes, tries to calm down and appeal to Serena’s rationality. “I know that you didn’t mean that, that you know better.”
They stare at each other until Serena shakes her head. “I’m sorry, you’re right. I lashed out because…” She rubs her face tiredly. “Is this why all the secrecy? Are you ashamed of us…”
“Us?” Bernie slides off the bed while Serena keeps talking, telling her all the things Bernie’s not good at, all the things Bernie should do, provide, maintain, create. All the feeling she hurts, all the comfort she can’t offer. But after awhile it’s Marcus’ voice she hears, her children’s, her patients’ and she can’t tell who’s screaming what, just an infinite loop of recriminations.
Then her name, shouted so loud that overcomes all the other noises in her head. Hands pulling her up but her limbs are too tense to give in, too heavy. Then a body around hers that holds her tight and waits. Different words now, sweet and tender whispers. Soothing.
Bernie didn’t know she was keeping her eyes shut until she opens them again. She’s crouched on the floor, Serena’s arms around her.
Everything hurts while she slowly releases the tension in her muscles.

Chapter Text

Bernie disappeared for two weeks after the ‘gay panic’ as Serena referred to it in her mind. And then came back one night, mumbling something about how embarrassed she’d been for losing it in front of Serena. Her exact words. Serena would had rolled her eyes but Bernie was still so clearly ashamed that Serena refrained from it. That was the first time they didn’t sleep together. As much as Serena was relieved to see her again, Bernie had to understand that she couldn’t do anything she pleased without expecting consequences. And since there wasn’t much else on the table Serena withdrew sex, wondering if her mother and grandmother and every woman from the last century would have been proud of her cheap tactics. Bernie accepted her punishment, sat at the table and looked for tangerines that weren’t there.
They talked about work and small things, slowly rebuilding their usual intimacy. Serena didn’t ask again about her sexuality, she knew she shouldn’t have insisted the first time. And Bernie’s orientation wasn’t much more of a mild curiosity to her. But now she was convinced that this was the reason Bernie didn’t want a relationship, so it made her crazy not being able to talk about it.
The next time Bernie was in her bed she waited for the right moment. “I’ve never been with a woman before.”
“I know.” Bernie rubbed her arm and went to the loo.
“How do you know?” Serena said now worried for all different reasons. “Do you mean I was rubbish?”
“Of course not, darling.” Bernie smirked closing the door.

She shouldn’t find Bernie smarty pants face so attractive. She shouldn’t find Bernie attractive at all. What she should do is finding someone who loves her and takes her out to dinner. Someone to get old with. But she’ll never manage that with Bernie in her life, even half in half out as she is, Bernie occupies a place that’s not hers. Serena scrolls on her mouse and starts reading the paragraph again. It’s almost lunch time but she wants to get over her emails now because she’s got surgery after.
“How long it’s been since I told you how stunning you are?”
“I don’t carry money at the hospital, Ric. So whatever it is, don’t ask for that.” Serena says keeping her eyes on the monitor.
Ric steps into the office with a hand on his chest and a hurt look. “Can’t a man be nice to a woman without a hidden agenda?”
“Never heard of it, no.”
He gives up his act and trails the chair next to Serena. “Alright Campbell, all cards on the table.”
Serena smiles and finally looks at him. “Shoot.”
“Do you remember Claudette?”
“Not particularly.”
“Anyway, a old friend of mine invited me to his 25th anniversary and I was going with Claudette. But she can’t come anymore, I won’t bother you with details.”
“Please don’t.”
“I was wondering if I could convince you to…”
“…be your fall-back?” But Serena is already convinced. She can’t even remember the last party she went to that wasn’t at Albie’s.
“I would never put it that way. You know how much…”
Serena rolls her eyes and opens her calendar on the computer. “When is it?”
“There will be good food, good wine, you might even meet someone, I’ll be your wingman…”
“When is it?”
“He’s got a beautiful wife and I’d really like to show up with a beautiful woman on my arm.”
“Ric, I swear to God I’ll defend your fragile male ego with my life. Just tell me when the hell is.”
“Tonight.”

When Ric comes to get her, he blows a whistle and she makes a little twirl to show off her light blue tight dress with a very generous cleavage, then pushes jokingly his shoulder and puts on her coat.
“I’ll have to fend the men away from you.”
“Those days are gone, I’m afraid.”
“Don’t be so sure. If it weren’t for Claudette…” He opens the car for her and Serena laughs.

The two stores house is not too far away, in a quiet street. There are big white candles in glass vases all around the small garden and the driveway that give a magical, soft atmosphere to the place.
“It’s very nice.” Serena says taking all in from the entrance.
“The house and the family. He’s a lucky bastard. Who gets to celebrate their 25th anniversary?”
“Not you, if you keep getting divorced every five minutes.”
“Ha ha.” Ric offers his arm and Serena accepts it. “Come on, let’s get everybody jealous.”

A man their age opens the door, he’s not very tall but has a friendly smile that widens when he recognizes Ric. “It’s been too long, mate.” He says hugging him. “And who’s this gorgeous lady?”
“Serena Campbell. Serena this is one of my oldest friends, Marcus Dunn.”
Serena shakes his hand smiling. “You have a wonderful home. And I’ve heard congratulations are in order.”
“Honestly, I can’t believe it myself.”
“Me neither!” Ric laughs. “How your wife chose you and not me is one of the biggest mystery of all time. Where is she?”
“Somewhere trying to mingle. Not really her thing but don’t tell her I told you that.” Marcus winks to Serena.
“Your secret is safe with me.” She answers flirtatiously.
“Oh, here she is.” He gestures somewhere behind Serena. “Come here love, Ric finally got over his crush for you and found a good match.”
“Ric!” Bernie goes to hug him and freezes. Ric doesn’t seem to notice and when he lets her go Bernie steps next to Marcus, eyes fixed on Serena.
“Bern, this is Serena Campbell.”
There’s a suspension in time where everything stills, all the noise in the house disappears and all Serena can feel is Bernie’s pure terror radiating off her body, reaching her own in slow waves. Serena opens her mouth. Once, twice until her brain starts working again. “Oh, hi Bernie, I didn’t realize you were married.” She makes a small pause, swallowing. “To such a lovely man.” She turns to Marcus with a smile. “We met at a conference in London but she goes with Wolfe, right?”
“Yes, Bern uses her maiden name. I think she only let our children’s teachers call her Ms Dunn.”
They all laughs politely except Bernie who’s just standing there, getting paler and paler.
“I’m so glad to see you again and in such joyful circumstances.” Serena knows she’s overselling it but she has to take Bernie away or she’ll turn this into a public catastrophe. “I’m sure the boys won’t mind if I steal you for a little bit.”
She smiles again, puts her arm under Bernie’s and pulls until she makes the first step. Serena smells whisky on Bernie’s breath while she looks for somewhere private between dozens of people. At the end of the kitchen she spots the stairs that lead to the cellar and they stop halfway down. Serena takes Bernie’s face between her hands, as she’s done so many times. “I’m gonna kill you, I’m going to fucking kill you, Bernie. But not today, not here. I need you to snap out of it because the last thing I want is saving your ass again.”
“Ok.” Bernie nods lightly, closes her eyes, relaxes into Serena’s touch until Serena has to shake her because it’s unsettling, like holding a rag doll.
“After your first lie in London, you told me that this was fun. Does it feel like fun now?”
Bernie looks down. “Serena…”
Serena holds her head higher until she can see the pain and shame in Bernie’s eyes. “Is there anything at all that can justify what you’ve done? Anything that…” But Bernie looks away again and Serena thinks herself so silly for even having hoped. “I can’t leave right now, but I won’t stay long.” She brushes her thumbs on Bernie’s skin with no affection, just to convince herself that’s the same person. “You’ll just have to fake it, ok? I bet your husband and I won’t even notice.”

Serena wanders in Bernie’s living room like in a dream, the lights are too bright and the voices a blurred noise buzzing in her ears. She pours herself a glass of wine and it spills red and angry on the tablecloth. There are so many pictures scattered around, twenty-five years worth of pictures that scream to Serena a story she doesn’t want to hear. The kids are everywhere, small and toothless, goofy teenagers, smiling young adults. A whole shelf dedicated to Bernie’s military past, her medals in display between an official photo of Bernie in high uniform, so incredibly handsome, and another well worn of a group of soldiers in the middle of the desert. She looks so brave and honorable, someone you’d entrust with your life in the blink of an eye. Serena hopes she doesn’t stare at Bernie in the same dumb way Marcus does in their wedding picture.
Bernie never leaves Marcus’ side, with her dark green satin dress and matching shoes she’s so elegant and perfect. Marcus laughs, at ease with all the attention, Bernie endures it stoically with a glass of whiskey always hanging between her fingers. Serena watches Marcus’ hand trailing on Bernie’s lower back and feels physically sick. Bernie turns to her in that moment and their eyes meet.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” Ric breaks their gaze.
“You were right, the wine is really good.”
“Marcus fancies himself as some sort of an expert. I didn’t know you and Bernie knew each other.”
Serena shrugs. “We don’t, really.”
Ric mistakes Serena’s answer as a request for information. “She’s one of the best trauma surgeons of the country and a war hero. Marcus is an orthopedic at St. James. Both kids at university, the oldest will be a doctor soon…”
Serena nods, not really listening to this tedious and hurtful list of merits. She really can’t tell why Ric is so enamored with these people. They’re like everybody else, just keeping the sham longer than most.
“What a perfect family.” Serena says without humor, she couldn’t muster it even if she wanted to. “Can you bring me some more wine, please?”
“Sure.” Ric takes her glass and she pretends to look at her phone.
“I have to go to the hospital, some kind of emergency.” She tells Ric when he comes back.
“I’ll take you.”
“Don’t. I have one of those taxi apps, I’ll be fine. Will you excuse me with…”
“Of course. See you tomorrow.”
“Enjoy the party.” Serena squeezes his arm and goes looking for her coat.
She finally founds it in a room upstairs piled with all the others on a single bed. There’s a bookcase and a desk on the right. A yellow and blue metal plate with ‘Charlotte’ printed on it on the opposite wall. She feels more an intruder now than downstairs and hurries to put on her coat. The door closes behind her and Serena turns to see Bernie leaning on it with her diamond earrings and dark lipstick.
“This is really stupid, Bernie. Even for you.”
“I just want…” Bernie slurs.
Serena wonders if she’s drunk but then remembers that’s not her problem and walks in front of her. “Move away.”
“I will but…”
Serena steps even closer and grabs her wrists. “You have to move right now or I’ll scream so loud what a whore you are that your husband and all your pretty guests will come running.”
Bernie is not scared, she just stares at her with liquid, hurt eyes. Serena lets her go, watches her in disbelief. How can Bernie look so vulnerable and fragile when she’s so obviously a monster. Serena pushes her aside and gets out.

She walks away without looking back. She can’t feel the cold or the pain from her heels. She curses at Bernie for doing this to her, for making her the other woman, for lying to her face. She crosses the street and a car almost runs her over. She screams at the man, screams at the top of her lungs until she’s crying desperately in the middle of the road. An old woman with a dog passes her by and stares at her, makes to say something but Serena jogs away, cleans her eyes.
Bernie manipulated her from the first night. But Serena let her and forgave her. And then forgave her again and again. She chose to forgive all the small lies and the big ones were right there for her to see. But Serena looked the other way. She wanted Bernie so much, she tricked herself. And she can hate Bernie for all that happened but then she’ll have to hate herself too.

Chapter Text

Bernie wakes up in her bed with Marcus breathing on her neck and his arm around her waist. She runs to the bathroom and throws up. How much did she drink yesterday? And then all comes back to her. Marcus kissing her in the kitchen, the first of too many whisky, the party, Serena. She throws up again but her stomach is empty and it only hurts. She sits on the floor and the tiles are cold. She’s not wearing her pajama. Did she had sex with Marcus again last night? No, she was so drunk that he had to take her to bed, he tried to put her bottoms on but she kept kick him until he gave up. She never gets drunk, tipsy sometimes, but never so drunk. She hears Serena’s voice calling her a whore. She already felt one, there was no need to be reminded. That’s why she got drunk, to stop feeling that way. It’s morning now and she can tell it didn’t work.
She stands up and washes her face, removes what’s left of her makeup and brushes her teeth until her gums bleed. But then Marcus starts snoring in the bedroom and Bernie feels dirty all over again. So she locks herself inside, turns on the shower and covers her ears. She can still hear him but it’s impossible, it’s all in her mind. Like his hands on her hips, his mouth on her breast. He’s just sleeping. And she shouldn’t hate him so much because she’s the one who cheated, she has no right to hate him at all.
She gets into the shower and crouches on the floor, the hot water falling around her like a shield. ‘Does it feel like fun now?’ But it never did, not even in London when everything was new and intoxicating, when Bernie wanted it so hard to be just fun. Now, she can’t even imagine her life without Serena, thinks she will die without her. She should had chosen when there was still time, now she hurt Serena too much, she won’t take her back, won’t forgive her this time. And why should she? Not even Bernie will ever forgive herself for what she’s done to Serena. But she has to see her one last time, tell her the truth, face her questions, her anger, her wrath because it’s the least she can do. Being honest and brave for once in her life. Being the person Serena always deserved.

She can’t stand looking at Marcus so she leaves the house while he’s still waking up. She doesn’t answer his texts or his calls. She ran out of excuses, she doesn’t want to find others. She drives to Serena’s house but her car is not there, so Bernie walks around the neighbourhood until she finds a place that sells cigarettes. She waits in her car, the window down, a fag after another until her throat burns.
A little after three Serena parks in front of her house, she walks slowly through the pathway, her head bent down, her shoulders crouched and Bernie’s heart clenches.
She waits in the car a few more minutes, gathering all her courage and then goes knocking at the door.
“What do you want?” Serena is pale, bags under her eyes.
“To explain.”
“Why?”
Bernie falters, uncertain. “Don’t you need me to?”
“I think I’ve seen enough yesterday.” Serena tries to close the door but Bernie holds it open.
“Please, it’s me, I need to explain. I’m not asking for anything, I just want to tell you the truth.”
“And the truth shall set you free? I don’t think so, Bernie.” Serena pushes on the door but Bernie doesn’t move. “For fuck’s sake, didn’t you do enough damage already? Why don’t you leave me alone?”
“I will, I swear. But after we’ve talked.”
A neighbour waves at Serena from the street and she stiffly waves back. “Ok, but at the first lie you’re out of my house.”
“Yes, yes.” Bernie gets inside, takes off her coat and waits for Serena to tell her where to go.
“The kitchen.”
Bernie looks at the fruit bowl and her stomach groans, last time she ate was a sandwich at lunch yesterday. Serena doesn’t offer her anything and they sit at the opposite sides of the table.
“Start from the beginning.”
And it sounds like one of those cop dramas at the telly, with Bernie as the murderer. “London?”
“No. The others before me.”
And Bernie frowns because of all the things she hid, Serena picked the one she didn’t. But she’ll be patient and as honest as she can. “There are no others, I told you.”
Serena seems to ponder Bernie’s words. “I still can’t tell if this is a lie.” She says disappointed with herself.
“Why would I lie about this, now?”
“Liars don’t need a good excuse, that’s just their way of going through life.”
Bernie sighs and tries to find an answer that can satisfy Serena. “In all my life I’ve only slept with two boyfriends, Marcus and you, in that order. But I’ve flirted with other women, is this what you mean?” Serena nods. “A girl in a pub in Ireland, Cam’s math teacher, another doctor in Afghanistan and a few others. But it was just harmless flirting.”
“Harmless for whom? Did you make them believe they had a chance? Should we ask Marcus how harmless he thinks it is?” Serena waves away Bernie’s answer. “Why wasn’t I harmless flirting?”
“I thought you were. It had always been more than enough, getting close and never crossing the line. But not with you. I tried to stop myself. At the bar, in the elevator, even when you were kissing me I was still trying to back away. I just wanted you too much.” Bernie smiles a little at the memory, wants to add that she still wants her, always will, but Serena wouldn’t take it well.
“You weren’t wearing your ring, you were planning to…”
“No, it was Marcus.” And she’s glad that finally something is not her wrong doing but just fate. “He wanted to engrave the date of the anniversary so…”
“And all the times you came here?”
There’s no one else she can blame for that. “It was in my pocket.”
“Is it there now?”
“Yes.”
“Put it on.”
Bernie trails the chair back and stands up. She picks the ring from her coat in the hallway and comes back wearing it. When she sits, Serena takes her hand and looks at it for a long moment.
“You cried the first night, was it it guilt?”
Bernie hides her hands in her lap. “Yes, among other things.”
“What other things?” Serena shoots her questions likes rounds of a gun.
“I don’t think I can…”
“Try.”
Bernie doesn’t want to sound callous, there’s still a part of her that craves Serena’s approval, but she’s sworn she’d be truthful. “I had cheated on Marcus. I’d slept with someone else after almost thirty years. For the first time with a woman. And I’d liked every second of it. If I tell you that I cried for guilt, joy and relief will you hate me even more?”
Serena pauses taking in Bernie’s words than says a little more sweetly than before. “Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”
“When we were in London I didn’t see the point. And after it just seemed too late.”
Serena shakes her head. “Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”
“I was trying to protect my family. I didn’t want…”
But Serena cuts her off and almost shouts. “Why didn’t you tell me you were married?”
“Because you would have left me, ok? I wasn’t ready.” Bernie shouts back.
Serena’s shoulders relax. “Are you ready now?”
Bernie looks down, voice low. “No.”
“You’ll have to be, because I’ve already left you.”
“I know.”
“Did you sleep with Marcus since we met?”
Bernie looks at her surprised. “No.”
Serena stands up and the chair scratches on the floor. “I told you, one lie and you’re out.”
“No, wait, wait.” Bernie puts her hands up in surrender. “We haven’t slept together for almost a year, way before London, but yesterday…”
“…it was your anniversary. How romantic.” Serena spits bitterly.
“It wasn’t.”
Serena slaps her hand on the table and leans over. “I was at your house and you fucked him as soon as I left.”
Bernie startles and her head starts spinning. “It was before.”
“Should this make me feel better?”
“You?” Bernie blinks. “I was there. “ She hisses. “I had to listen to his grunts, feel him inside me.”
“Bernie…”
Serena is trying to warn her but the words starts running off Bernie’s mouth without control. “What? Do you want to know more? He did it in the kitchen, bent me over the counter. Not enough?”
Serena steps back and looks away. “Stop it.”
“You asked!” Bernie stands up and walks behind Serena. “I thought of you the whole time. How I was betraying you and why, why I never felt so sick the other way around, never a guilty thought about him when I was with you.” She grabs Serena’s hips but she wiggles out.
“I don’t want to hear anymore.”
“Why? You called me a whore and you were right. I did sell myself, not for money but for peace and quiet. And it worked wonders for years, until I met you.”
Serena turns around and faces her. “Do you want me to feel sorry for you?”
“No, you’re too busy feeling sorry for yourself.”
“What did you just say?” Serena’s voice is dangerously low and Bernie’s matches it.
“I know I’m the villain here, I accept that, I deserve that. But yesterday Marcus knew I wasn’t enjoying it and he kept fucking me. And you must have known I was married but you kept fucking me too.”
Bernie knows she’s right because Serena just stares at her with wide eyes. When Serena goes back to her chair, Bernie cleans the tears from her face and sits down as well.
“It wasn’t always like this. We were happy.” Bernie says calmly, her hands on the table, toying with her ring. “The sex was nice at first and then mediocre and then perfunctory. I’ve never understood what all the fuss was about. There were other things… and then I joined the army and not being at home so much, doing what I liked the most… It wasn’t a bad life. But then you happened to me, showing me what all the fuss was about. I know I destroyed any chance for us… but if I wasn’t wearing my ring today it’s not…” She makes a small grimace taking it off. “I don’t want to wear it anymore.”
Serena sighs watching Bernie putting the ring in her pocket. “Bernie, I can’t take you back.”
“I know.” She makes a little smile and tries to be brave. “I don’t want you to. I’ll have to make a lot of changes and I need to do them alone.”
Serena nods, even more tired and paler than when Bernie first came in. “Are you hungry?”
“I might.”
“When did you eat last?”
“Does whisky count?”
“I’ll make you something.”
Serena starts moving around the kitchen, opening the fridge, breaking eggs in a bowl, chopping vegetables. Bernie follows every movement, warms in this precarious familiarity. “Do you listen to the radio when you cook? I always imagined you here with some music.”
Serena looks at her with a hint of sadness and then turns a small radio on. “Like this?” An old sixties song fills the room.
“Yes, but you were swaying your hips, singing along…”
“Were you there?”
“Always.”
Serena smiles and gets back to the food on the counter. “Did you imagined other things?”
“I can’t cook very well so I imagined making tea after washing the plates and bringing you coffee in bed. Earning a kiss for that, every time.”
“What else?”
“Asking you about Ellie.”
Serena clears her throat. “What else.”
“Those two guys in the picture. I imagined you telling me all about them. I think it must be nice working with you, I think people at work would go to war for you.”
Serena keeps her back to Bernie and her voice is hoarse. “And?”
“Watching telly after dinner but then getting distracted with talking and kissing, forgetting about it until we roll over the control and the volumes goes up, you’d get very frightened and then very angry because I’m laughing. But I imagined this only once.”
“Go on.”
“Are you crying?”
“No, go on.”
“I imagined waking up with you, going to sleep with you and everything in between. Doing that everyday for the rest of my life.” Serena is shaking and Bernie stands up. “I imagined being in your kitchen while you were chopping the same mushroom over and over again pretending not to be crying, and walking behind you, taking you in my arms and telling you that I love you.”
Serena turns around in Bernie’s embrace and starts punching her shoulder, letting her tears falling between them. “You idiot, you damn idiot.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” Bernie holds her tight, leaves small kisses on the top of her head until Serena stops crying. “I’ll make it better, I promise.”

Chapter Text

Serena looks out at the passing countryside, trying to relax after a long day at work. It’s been exactly one year since she last made this journey to the conference in London.
She hasn’t seen Bernie since she left her house that day. Serena slowly settled back into her old life, between Elinor’s whims, neverending board meetings and comfortable nights at Albie’s. Everything looked as before but it wasn’t. A couple of weeks later Ric told her that Bernie had filed for divorce. And three months later a new F1 came to work for her, a young man with scruffy hair. She recognized him from the pictures in Bernie’s house. It wasn’t easy at first, Bernie must had taken her vow not to lie anymore maybe a little too seriously, and Cam’s gaze wasn’t friendly at all. But he quickly softened up to her, learning how to work together and eventually liking each other. He even started to drop fairly innocuous informations about Bernie during work conversations. That his mom had a new apartment. That he and his sister were going to dinner with their mother who was, by the way, still single. Serena blushed at that. That his mom was doing great on her own, she was changed but in a good way. Serena found him endearing in his complete lack of subtlety but never asked him anything, just waited for those little facts that would make her day.

The taxi ride is as short as she remembered it and when she arrives at the hotel she checks in and goes up in her room to refresh rapidly. She tries not to think of Bernie in a room just like this a year ago, or if Bernie will be here this time too. She always tries not to think of Bernie and always fails. So, she calls the elevator a little too impatiently and jogs instead of walking to the hotel bar. But Bernie isn’t there. She crosses the room and sits at the same stool, asking for a glass of Shiraz. She’s taking her second sip of wine when she has to stop with the glass midair, her mouth slightly open. A woman, who looks just like Bernie but with blonder, shorter hair, enters the room. She opens her black coat and while she walks through the room it flies slightly around her body.
“It must really be something.” Bernie says nodding at the wine.
“It is.” Serena says staring at her.
Bernie blushes lightly and sits next to her. “Long day?”
Serena smirks. “Long year.”
Bernie doesn’t return the smile. “Indeed.” She tilts her head down and her fringe covers her eyes.
Serena wants to reach for it, brush it off, but she’s not sure she’s allowed. “Whisky?”
“No.” Bernie asks the waiter for a glass of white and when he comes back she tells him. “Do you remember us?”
He fidgets a little. “No, sorry. Should I?”
“It’s ok, don’t worry.”
“Why did you have to embarrass the poor boy?” Serena chuckles when he leaves.
Bernie shrugs. “How’s Cam doing?”
“Very good. But he talks a lot about his mom for a man of his age.”
Bernie’s eyes widens a little. “What did he say?”
“Things.” Serena says vaguely. “When’s your presentation?”
“In two days.” Bernie sips at her wine and Serena sees her trying to be smug, normal. “You won’t win easily this year, I’ve had quite the teacher.”
Serena grins at that. “We’ll see.”
“I was thinking…” Bernie’s hand is suddenly jittery around the stem of her glass. “Maybe you want to eat.”
“Yes, three times a day, usually.”
“You know what I mean.” Bernie glares at her and then tries again. “There’s an Italian restaurant where we can eat pasta and… maybe we can talk properly because this place it’s not helping my focus in the slightest to be honest.”
Serena laughs. “Ok, I’ll have dinner with you but first…” She takes Bernie’s surprised face between her hands and kisses her softly for a long moment. “So the waiter will remember us next year.” She winks at Bernie and gets up.

Serena watches Bernie struggling to find the right balance in the conversation. She wants to show interest in Serena’s life but she’s afraid to be invasive. She wants to talk but also give Serena space. Tell Serena she’s changed without sounding a complete idiot. Serena tries to reassure her that everything is fine but Bernie just pushes the pasta around her plate. “Perhaps it wasn’t the hotel, it’s being with you that doesn’t help my focus.”
“What would?”
“I don’t know, I just want to make a good second impression, I guess. I really wish… Serena?”
Serena smiles innocently while her hand trails up Bernie’s thigh. “You’re trying too hard. Just relax, I already like you.”
“Well, I can’t relax now.” Bernie says sitting straighter on the small sofa they’re sharing at the corner of the restaurant.
“I think you can.” Serena start touching her. “Don’t look around, look at me.” Bernie does and her legs opens slightly. “I missed you. You don’t have to prove yourself all in one night, there’s time. Ok?” Bernie smiles. “God, you’re so beautiful. Do you want me to stop?”
“No.”
“Then breathe. It won’t take long, won’t it?” Bernie is not tense anymore and Serena’s fingers can move more comfortably against her sex. “I had a dream like this.”
“I remember.” Bernie’s voice is nothing more than a whisper.
Serena presses harder, finds a rhythm. “I want to taste you, do you think they’d notice?”
“I think yes.” Bernie slides forward to the edge of the couch and spreads her legs as much as she can.
“Later, then. But you can imagine me there.”
“I just need your eyes on me. Looking at me.” Her shallow breathing tainting every word.
“I am. I’m here with you. Do you think you can come for me?” Bernie nods. “Now, Bernie.”And Bernie comes biting hard her lip, hands closing tight on the couch. Serena kisses tenderly her flushed cheek. “I hope your appetite is back.”

They hold hands in the elevator, smiling at each other. Serena makes the keycard work at the first attempt and finds the bed lamps’ switch right away.
“You’re getting better at this.” Bernie smirks.
“It only took me one year to get it right.” Bernie’s face falls a little and Serena grabs her coat to pull her closer. “I wasn’t talking about you. Will this be a thing? You getting all dark and broody and poor little me forced to shag it away?”
“You realize that it sounds more like an incentive?”
“Does it?” Serena kisses her. “I’ll threaten you better tomorrow.”
They fall in bed and it’s a tangle of limbs at first, then Bernie takes the lead, slow them down with long, deep kisses and soft caresses. Whispers that she wants to make love to Serena and Serena understands, knows by now that this is how Bernie communicates better, without blushing or fears to hold back her feelings. And Bernie tells her how sorry she is with every touch of her hands, how she missed Serena with every flick of her tongue. She worships every inch of Serena’s body promising to be strong and brave from now on. And when Serena is still shaking between her arms she tells her how much she loves her, even if Serena already knows.